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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?

Below are ways that drivers can avoid becoming a target of these crimes:

  • Always lock your car
  • Never leave your vehicle idling/running unattended – even if your key fob is on you, someone can still drive off with your car until it stops or gas runs out
  • Always keep track of your keys, never leave them inside the vehicle
  • Do not leave children unattended inside your vehicle
  • Park in a safe spot
  • Stay alert and aware of your surroundings
  • If you see suspicious activity, report it anonymously by calling (202) 727-9099
  • If you are a victim of a crime, report it immediately by calling 911

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.