Price of High-Tech Security Could Be Carjacking Comeback

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As advanced anti-theft technologies make cars increasingly difficult to steal, some auto thieves are turning to clever and innovative new methods, but many others are reverting to a tried-and-true classic: carjacking. Carjacking is perhaps the lowest-tech, least-complex approach to stealing a vehicle, comprising only two main steps: Threaten and/or overpower the car owner; take the car. No fuss, no muss, no having to circumvent sophisticated security features.

Related: Auto Theft Evolves As Cars Get Harder to Steal

Like crime across the board, carjacking likely has been on the decline for years. We say “likely” because there are no definitive national statistics for the crime. The FBI’s Unified Crime Reporting program doesn’t break out carjacking individually from other robberies; that’s due to inconsistent classification of the crime among the many law enforcement agencies across the U.S. that report their figures. There are, however, at least anecdotal indications that the proportion of carjackings compared with other kinds of auto theft is on the rise.

“Authorities note that some thieves are now resorting to carjacking because technology has made it difficult to steal the old-fashioned way: hot-wiring,” the Detroit Free Press reported in 2014. “Given all the high-tech antitheft gadgets that today’s vehicles have, stealing a car is more difficult, they say, so thieves have to get the car while it’s running.”

The Free Press also reported that Motor City had more than 1,200 carjackings, about three a day, in 2008. Although that number dipped to about 700 by 2013 and to about 500 by 2014 amid concerted law-enforcement and legislative crackdowns, Detroit’s carjacking count was still roughly three times that of New York, a city 10 times as populous. For comparison, similarly sized Baltimore and Memphis logged about 175 and 150 carjackings annually by recent counts, while Newark, N.J., which is about half the size of Detroit, had fewer than 400 incidents but a higher per capita rate, the newspaper reported.

It’s been nearly a dozen years since the last comprehensive U.S. study of carjacking. The National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004 examined carjacking for the decade between 1993 and 2002, finding that about 34,000 had occurred annually during that period, with an average of 1.7 victimizations per 10,000 people.

Unsurprisingly, incidents occurred almost exclusively in densely populated areas, with urban and suburban areas comprising 93 percent of the total. Incidents typically occurred at night in an open area, such as on the street or near public transportation, as well as near commercial places such as stores and gas stations. Perpetrators used a weapon in nearly three-fourths of crimes, and in about half of those incidents the weapon was a gun. Nearly half the victims in both successful carjackings and attempted ones were injured, with a serious injury such as a gunshot wound occurring in 9 percent of those cases.

“According to the Supplemental Homicide Reports from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, about 15 murders a year involve auto theft,” the report stated. “It is not possible to determine how many of these murders meet the definition of carjacking.”

Even with a possible increase in carjacking, it remains a small sliver of overall auto thefts. Still, given the violence commonly accompanying the crime it’s important to know the safest way to react if it happens to you. In a recent video posted by USA Today, security specialist Major Gardner, of Law Enforcement & Security Specialists Private Training Academy in Atlanta, offered the following tips for how to survive a carjacking:

1. If the assailant is asking for your vehicle, hand it over.

2. Don’t try to leap out of the passenger door, as the assailant could feel like they’re not in control and attack.

3. Only attempt to drive away if the path is obvious and safe — because bullets are a lot faster than you pushing the gas pedal.

4. If the perpetrator demands your wallet, phone, purse or other belongings, hand them over.

5. If they order you to get in the trunk, the time to cooperate is over and you need to find a way out of the situation. Get creative to find an opening potentially to run away, such as pretending to have trouble unlocking the trunk and then throwing the keys at them and fleeing.

6. Avoid the situation in the first place. Don’t park in the spot closest to the a store or office where there are a lot of other cars to conceal an assailant; park in an open space where people can see you and you can see potential danger coming.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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