File picture: MasterDrive via Motorpress.
File picture: MasterDrive via Motorpress.

Car hijackers: how they operate and how to minimise your risk

By Motoring Staff Time of article published Nov 10, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - With the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, there has been a proportionate increase in vehicle hijackings in South Africa, and some sources are even reporting an increase versus 2019.

According to Dialdirect spokesperson Bianca de Beer, the insurance company’s latest claims data shows that hijackings have increased by 20 percent versus 2019.

Given how rampant this crime is in our society, it’s important to observe the trends, and get to know how these criminals operate as well as what to do in the event of a hijacking.

In that regard, the director of the National Hijacking Prevention Academy has offered motorists some useful insights, following an in-depth analysis of hijackings that took place between August 2019 and July 2020.


Time and day

Although they occur every day of the week, hijackings peak on Fridays. Hijackings also tend to occur from 12h00 midday, peaking between 4pm and 8pm.


According to the NHPA, hijackers prefer spots where vehicles are moving slowly or stationary, as well as spots where there are easy escape routes. Most hijackings occur in residential driveways, but other hotspots include intersections, the side of the road (when the driver stops to answer the phone, for example), schools, filling stations, parking areas and places where passengers are picked up or dropped off.

Weapons used

Revolvers and pistols are mostly used, with a smaller percentage of hijackings involving high calibre guns, knives and even bare hands.

How they operate

Hijackers’ modus operandi typically includes the following methods:

Boxing in: Choosing spots where victims can’t escape easily.

Forced stop: Using vehicles to force the victim off the road.

Following: Following victims from busy public spaces to quieter spots.

Test drive hoax: Posing as potential buyers of advertised vehicles who’d like a test drive.

Blue light: Posing as police or traffic officials.


Make sure you’re not being followed

If you suspect you are being followed, make a couple of false turns. If someone is still following you, drive to the nearest police station.

Some basic housekeeping rules

These include knowing your neighbours and what cars they drive, keeping your driveway free of places where perpetrators can hide and ensure the area is well-lit. Also be sure to lock your doors when you’re driving.

How to safely enter your property

If your gate is automatic, stop in the road parallel to the gate, if possible, to give yourself an escape route. Once the gate is fully open, turn in and stop on the other side of the gate and wait for it to close. You want to avoid being followed into your property, as a hijacking could turn into a house robbery.

If you don’t have an automatic gate, you need to check it’s safe before exiting your vehicle and Dialdirect advises leaving the key in the ignition, but with the car door closed, so that a perpetrator doesn’t have to approach you in order to take the vehicle.

Plan your route

Plan your route carefully to avoid driving at unsafe times, through unsafe areas, or coming to a stop / driving slower, and thus becoming an easier target. Alternate your habits and routes to avoid being a predictable target.

Be smart with how you stop

Motorists are advised to approach red traffic lights slowly so that a complete stop might be avoided. When stopping behind a vehicle at a traffic light or stop sign, make sure you can see its rear tyres touch the road surface. This will make it more difficult to be boxed in.

What if you get bumped from behind?

If your vehicle is bumped lightly from behind, don’t pull over immediately. If the bump wasn’t hard enough to have damaged the vehicle, and you feel that there might be a threat, indicate to the vehicle behind you to follow you to a place of safety such as a petrol station or police station.

Watch out for bogus police

If you’re followed by a vehicle with a blue light it’s best to reduce your speed, switch on emergency lights and indicate that they must follow you to a safe place such as a police station (your intentions must be very clear and understandable). Do not, under any circumstances, drive home.

Avoiding a smash and grab

Be sure to keep your phone and other valuables out of sight as thieves and hijackers often “window shop” before striking. Avoid driving with windows wide open.


Put your hands up immediately to show that you’ve surrendered.

Don’t speak too fast and do not make sudden movements.

Do not lose your temper, threaten or challenge the hijacker and to exactly as you’re told.

Don’t resist, especially if the hijacker is armed. Surrender your vehicle and move away.

Be sure not to reach for your purse or valuables. Leave everything in the vehicle.

Don’t make eye contact with the hijacker. They may perceive this behaviour as a threat.

How to exit the vehicle

Use your left hand to unlock the door and use the same hand to undo the seatbelt and put the car out of gear. With an automatic vehicle, just pull up the handbrake. When getting out of your vehicle, turn your body sideways, lift your shoulders and use your hands and arms to cover the head / neck area. Move away from the vehicle immediately. Keep your hands still and visible to the hijacker, to give them assurance of your passive consent.

What if your child is in the vehicle?

If you have a child in the vehicle, you may want to reach through between the seats to retrieve the child, or if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, you may exit the vehicle and open the door behind you immediately. Step into the vehicle with your right leg and foot and lean across to retrieve your child.

It is important to remember, first and foremost, that your life is worth more than your vehicle.

* These tips were supplied by the National Hijacking Prevention Academy and Dialdirect

IOL Motoring

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