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Your car is replaceable, but you’re not. Carjacking is a crime of violence that can be particularly scary. Knowing how to respond in a situation may mean the difference between serious injury or death and walking away unscathed.

The crime of “carjacking” — which is stealing a car by force — captures headlines across the country.  Statistically speaking, however, your chances of being a victim of carjacking are very slim, and taking preventive measures can reduce that risk even more.

Who Does It Happen To?

  • Carjacking is a crime of opportunity — a criminal searching for the most vulnerable potential victim. Sometimes it is the first step in another crime.
  • Up until 1993, carjacking was reported as either armed robbery or auto theft in the District of Columbia. In response to several highly-publicized incidents, the D.C. Council passed laws providing stiffer penalties for individuals arrested and convicted of carjacking. It is critical that victims report these crimes to the police.
  • Carjacking is not just a problem for large cities — it happens in suburbs, rural areas, and small towns.
  • Even though carjacking can take place at any time, a large share of those cases appears to occur during the late night hours.
  • Carjackers are looking for an opportunity. They don’t discriminate, so the victim’s sex, race, or age is usually not a factor.

Where Do Carjackers Find Their Victims?

Carjacking can take place anywhere, although some locations are more common:

  • ATMs (automated teller machines)
  • Self-serve gas stations and car washes
  • Garages and parking lots of shopping malls, grocery stores and mass transit
  • Intersections that are controlled by stop lights or signs
  • Highway exit and entry ramps, or anyplace else where drivers slow down or stop
  • Residential driveways and streets as people get into and out of vehicles

What Do I Do If It Happens to Me?

  • If the carjacker threatens you with a gun or other weapon, GIVE UP YOUR CAR! Don’t argue. Your life is definitely worth more than a car!
  • Get away from the area as quickly as possible.
  • Try to remember what the carjacker looked like — sex, race, age, hair and eye color, special features, clothes.

How Do I Reduce My Risk of Becoming a Victim?

When you are on the road:

  • ALWAYS keep your doors locked and windows rolled up (if it’s hot and you don’t have air conditioning, roll them up at least part-way) no matter how short the distance you’re traveling or how safe the neighborhood.
  • Drive in the center lane to make it harder for potential carjackers to approach the car.
  • AVOID driving alone. Travel with someone whenever possible, especially at night.
  • When you are coming to a stop, leave enough room to maneuver around other cars, especially if you sense trouble and need to get away.
  • Always drive with the doors locked. If a thief can’t get in your vehicle, you stand a better chance of leaving with it.
  • DON’T stop to assist a stranger whose car has broken down. You can help instead by driving to the nearest phone (or using your cell phone) to call police for help.

What are some safety tips to avoid being a victim?

  • Park in well-lighted areas, near sidewalks or walkways. AVOID parking near dumpsters, large vans or trucks, woods, or anything else that limits your visibility.
  • NEVER leave valuables out in plain view, even if the car is locked. ALWAYS put them in the trunk or out of sight.
  • Try to park in a garage with an attendant. Leave only the ignition key, with no identification.
  • Even if you’re rushed, LOOK AROUND before you get out and STAY ALERT to the surroundings.
  • Always trust your instincts. If the situation doesn’t “feel right,” get away.