How to Survive a Carjacking

It was a cold and damp January morning in Knoxville, Tennessee. A young girl was sitting parked in front of her boyfriend’s home in her late-model Toyota 4-runner. Her boyfriend was leaning in the passenger side window, pleading with her to come back in the house. She had run out to the car after a minor spat. Neither of them expected or were prepared for what happened next.

So engaged in their conversation, they were taken unawares by a group of carjacking thugs. The ambushers forced the couple into the back of the vehicle and took off. Their badly beaten bodies were found days later. They had been raped and tortured.

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Not all cases of carjacking end so violently, sometimes just getting the car is enough, but, carjacking is on the rise nationwide, and more and more of them are turning violent, even deadly. Would you know how to protect yourself or your loved ones from a potentially violent carjacker?

What to Do If in an Attempted Carjacking

Here are five tips on how to survive a carjacking.

1. Be Aware – As in any survival scenario, what the military and law enforcement refers to as “situational awareness” could be your key to getting out alive. I tell my students to practice the “3-second rule.” Every time you stop at a red light, or another place where we can be a target, do not use this as an opportunity to send a text. Looking down at your phone is the exact kind of “soft-target” would-be carjackers are looking for. Instead, sit upright and look around for and assess your location and your surroundings every 3 seconds. You will not only be aware of any potential threats, but you will also be sending a clear signal that you are focused and aware. The same should be done OUTSIDE of your car, if you are at an ATM, at the door of your car getting in at a parking lot, etc. These are the kinds of places were many attacks take place.

2. Compliance – Fortunately, most cases of carjacking do not end as violently as the one did in Knoxville. Most often carjackings are opportunity crimes, where the thieves only want the car. It can be extremely unsettling to be stopped at a traffic light, and have a gun jammed in your face, and asked to get out and hand over the keys. But, in most situations, that is probably the safest thing to do. If you give them the keys, you lose your car, but you walk away with your life. Some suggest you throw the keys as far away from you as possible and then take off running in the opposite direction, but this runs the risk of pissing off an already nervous thief, so simple compliance is probably better.

There are two notable exceptions to compliance. The only times you should not comply, is if there is something in your guts that tells you your life is in danger, whether you meet or not. Then it’s time to fight or run. If you see a clear path of escape, run like hell. If you cannot run, then you must fight – and fight like your life depends on it because it does. The other time not to comply is if you have a loved one with you, especially a child in the back of the car. If you have a kid in the car, and your attacker seems to be life-threatening, fleeing is not an option — you must fight for the both of you.

3. Just Drive – If your attempted carjacker does not seem to have a weapon, floor the car and escape – it’s just that simple. When you stop at a light, always try to be the first car, if you are not the first car, leave a good deal of space between the car in front of you and the car behind, so if you have to beat a hasty retreat, you have room to maneuver. If you see a firearm, and you think compliance is the better option, it may be best not to speed off. There have been incidents where carjackers have fired on a fleeing vehicle and injured or killed the drivers or occupants.

4. Avoidance – As in any dangerous situation, the best way to survive is not to be put in danger in the first place. Avoid potential carjacking by steering clear of:

• High-crime inner-city areas

• Lesser traveled roads (rural areas)

• Intersections where you must stop

• Isolated areas in parking lots

• Residential driveways and gates

5. Preparation – Finally, as in most survival situations being prepared is essential. In this case, being prepared could mean having pepper spray, a Taser, an expandable baton, or some other type of weapons in your car. But, it also means being aware of some of the common tricks employed by carjackers, such as the “bump,” or “the Good Samaritan.” In these dirty tricks of the trade, the thieves may purposely tap or bump your car from behind, and then ambush you when you pull over to assess the situation, or, a car may be “stuck” on the side of the road, seemingly in trouble, and someone flags you down to stop – but when you do, you become the victim. There are many variations on these. If you are hit from behind, and something feels wrong – drive to the nearest lighted area, call 911, and report your location, DO NOT get out of your car until the police arrive. Do not stop to help anyone on the side of the road, even if they seem innocent and in trouble. I know of a case where the carjackers used women, holding a doll to flag down potential victims. If you see someone who needs help, instead, call the location into the highway patrol or 911.
Always remember, the best way to survive a carjacking or any potential crime, is not to panic, and calmly assess the situation. Only by keeping a clear head and focus, can you take the most appropriate response to the scenario at hand.