Leon Schuster raised laughs in his 1997 movie Panic Mechanic with a spoof on hijacking. A man named Jack is greeted by friends with a straightforward: “Hi Jack”, until an actual hijacker comes to the window of his vehicle and shouts: “Hijack!” Thinking he is being greeted, it kick-starts the movie in typical Schuster fashion.
We probably all laughed so hard and loud from nerves, as South Africa has the dubious reputation of being known as a hijacking haven. To add insult to injury it is estimated that 80 percent of all hijackings take place in driveways. Quite simply, anti-hijacking systems are so sophisticated nowadays that a gun against someone's head has become the only way to get cars. Chilling!
It’s a sorry state of affairs, though, that hijacking has become an accepted way of life for many South Africans. We have become desensitized to this type of terrorising; and in the meantime hijacking continues to escalate unabated.
Analysts suggest that there is not a single make of vehicle that is safe from hijacking. However, there are those at higher risk. These include all Golf versions, Nissan 1400 bakkies and Toyota Corollas. Other vehicles such as the HiAce and cars that share similar traits to taxis, are also a high priority for hijackers as these vehicles are often stripped for spares and engine parts.
Crime experts have also established hijacking patterns which show that residential hijackings tend to increase after 5pm when motorists are heading towards home. An increase in vehicle hijackings during the peak hours (16h00 – 20h00) may be explained by the fact that people returning from work are often tired, frustrated and not alert to potentially threatening circumstances. Negligence on the motorist’s part could also not be excluded, for example leaving an idling vehicle unattended to open a gate in the driveway.
Hijacking is usually done by more than one person, so always remember there is probably more than one pair of eyes watching you while you’re driving. Be aware and don’t let them get the better of you.
How to survive a hijacking
Unless you are professionally trained to deal with a hijacking situation our advice is to comply with instructions, make controlled, deliberate movements and to do nothing that is going to alarm the hijackers.
Keep your hands clearly visible and as still as possible, ideally at chest level. Never initiate any movement yourself. This may give the hijacker the impression that you are reaching for a gun or panic button. Remember – the hijackers will be as nervous, if not more so, than you. Try to stay calm. Do not stare at the attackers as this may seem aggressive and cause them to harm you. Listen carefully to all instructions. Make the attackers aware if children are present. The attackers may be focused only on the driver and not know children are in the car.
Give up your vehicle freely - your life is more valuable than the most expensive car.
This doesn’t mean we need to be sitting ducks. The simplest things to remember are to stay alert and constantly to be on the look-out for perpetrators. It goes without saying - stating the obvious can keep us to refocus on reality - that you are vulnerable to hijacking while you are stationary in your vehicle. This means that you are a target for hijacking at traffic lights, in your driveway and at your driveway gates, in parking lots and while picking up or dropping off children at school. It is also not unheard of to become a victim of a hijacking when you advertise a vehicle for sale in the newspaper.
Whenever your vehicle is stationary you need to be vigilant. At traffic lights allow enough space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you so that you have room to manoeuvre in a crisis situation – ideally, you should be able to see the back tyres of the car stopped in front of you. If someone suspicious approaches your vehicle hoot and try to attract other motorists’ attention, or drive away if you can. Constantly check your mirrors for people approaching your car; this is not a good time to answer cell phone calls or BBMs or fix your hair and make-up - guilty? We all are! But as we often say, it’s our habits that make us victims of crime.
While dropping off or fetching children from school, especially pre-schoolers whom you are likely to accompany into and out of the school, be on the look-out for loiterers. These are people just standing by the side of the road, casually observing the goings on in the street and trying very hard not to look obtrusive. Interestingly, these casual observers - aka would be hijackers - are often seen holding bags or small pack packs. Once you start looking for these loiterers it’s amazing how adept you become at spotting them – spot the “would-be” hijacker can become an interesting past time!
As most hijacking take place in driveways it is important to be on full alert as you approach or leave your home. Switch off the radio 2km from home and keep an eye and monitor vehicles travelling behind you. As you get closer to home, take note of people walking in the streets or loitering on the pavements, and also check for vehicles parked on the pavements. If you feel in the least bit uneasy, do not pull into your driveway but drive to the nearest police station.
The watchword to avoid becoming a hijacking victim is always – vigilance.
Hijacking in SA – a summary
You are vulnerable to hijacking whenever you are stationary in your vehicle, but 80% of hijackings take place in residential driveways between 4pm and 8pm at night. All cars are at risk of being hijacked but Golfs, Nissan 1400 bakkies, Toyota Corollas, HiAce and other taxi-type vehicles are at most risk. If you become a victim of a hijacking comply with the hijackers, unless you have been professionally trained. Keep your hands clearly visible, ideally at chest height and do what the hijackers say. There is a lot you can do to avoid a hijacking, and the most important rule is to be vigilant, especially to people walking or loitering on the streets and to unfamiliar cars parked near to your home. If you feel at all uneasy when approaching your driveway, drive to the nearest police station.