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What to do when you are hijacked

A car hijacking can be an extremely scary situation to experience, and the unfortunate reality is that these crimes are on the rise in South Africa, with an average of 65 cases being filed every day.

These crimes can happen at a time when you least expect it, and making the wrong move can quickly escalate the situation which could lead to a terrible outcome for the occupants of the car.

In response to this increase in vehicle crime, VW recently launched its new Night Driving School at Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng that amongst other things educates motorists on what to do in the event that they are hijacked.

Remain calm

The single most important point that Volkswagen’s instructor reiterated again and again is to remain calm in the situation and to listen to the hijacker’s demands.

In most cases the hijacker is armed, and they are often younger criminals as a hijacking attempt is frequently used as a “right of passage” for syndicates which makes the situation more dangerous as the hijacker is inexperienced, nervous, and more likely to jump on the trigger.

After a hijacker has approached the vehicle, the driver should turn off the engine and raise their hands so the hijacker can see them. They should then slowly disconnect their seatbelt and move it over their body with one hand while keeping the other hand visible.

Turning off the car and taking the key out of the ignition is obviously not possible for all car owners as many vehicles now feature push-button start, but it’s a useful tip to keep in mind as it will buy you a few extra seconds to get other people out of the car, explained the instructor.

When you exit the car, you should keep your arms and hands high and huddle your shoulders to protect the more vulnerable parts of your body, and you should hand the key to the hijacker while keeping your back to the car.

The time it takes for the hijacker to take the key, get in the car, put it in the ignition, start the car, and drive off will buy you precious seconds that could be used to remove a child from the back seat, which wouldn’t be possible if you left the car running and ready to go when getting out.

The criminal wants to hijack the car as quickly as possible, which sadly leads to stories where they drive off with a baby still in the back seat, which may end up getting abandoned miles away or even ransomed.

If you have a car with keyless entry and start, it’s recommended that you always take the key out of your pocket and leave it in the car, as drivers can often forget the key as the hijacker takes off, which gives them a reason to come back looking for you.

To counteract this, a few brands such as VW specifically design their South African models to be drivable without the key, as this allows the hijacker to get away rather than having the car cut out and giving the criminals a reason to bring the victims with them.

Do not try to be clever and throw away the key, just give it to them so they can leave you as quickly as possible, explained the instructor.

If you travel with a baby, it is recommended you put the child seat directly behind the driver’s seat, rather than on the opposing side which parents commonly do to make it easier to check on them while driving.

This is because it makes it a lot easier and safer to grab the child from the back during a hijacking, as a hijacker may not wait for you to go all the way around the car, and they also won’t like it when you try to leave their line of sight.

If the child is very young and uses an ISOFIX-mounted car seat, it’s also best to disconnect the seat entirely rather than trying to undo the seatbelt and just take the kid.

It is actually quicker to disconnect the entire seat, and if the criminal tries to drive off before you are finished the shell of the seat will protect the infant from the car door potentially slamming on them as you pull them out.

Finally, if your car has a tracker and you know where it is, tell them immediately, as this is another reason why a hijacker may choose to bring you with them to help search for the device at another location.

Advice for avoiding hijackings

You must always be aware of your surroundings while driving in South Africa and should avoid doing things like checking your phone at the lights.

It also helps to vary your daily routine, as criminals tend to monitor their target’s activities and plan accordingly, with the most common hijacking location being a person’s driveway just as they get home.

Another important factor that VW highlighted is that many criminals are now posing as police to get individuals to voluntarily pull over, which usually works because of the driver’s guilty conscience.

If you were speeding or performing some other infractions moments prior to the “police” waving you down, it lends credence to their ruse, so it’s best to follow the law at all times to make the other party appear more suspicious, said the instructor.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should disregard any police attempts to flag you down, but if you are feeling unsafe (especially at night), rather get them to follow you while you slowly drive to the nearest police station.

The real police should understand your intentions, while any pretenders will stop following when they realize where you are going.


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