How to avoid becoming a victim of car crime
Johannesburg - As South Africa’s lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted, criminal activity, including vehicle crime, is fast returning to pre-lockdown levels. According to a preliminary police report and data from more than 1.1 million vehicles registered with Tracker (a vehicle tracking service provider), vehicle crime has seen a steep increase as restrictions are lifted.
As criminals return to their activities with the rest of the country, anti-crime activist, Yusuf Abramjee, cautions drivers to be particularly vigilant and prepared in case of an emergency.
“We are observing dramatic increases in hijackings and motor-vehicle theft – criminal syndicates are at work,” says Abramjee. “We are also seeing more hijackers taking victims as hostages and forcing them to withdraw cash from ATMs before freeing them. This is extremely concerning and it is bound to get worse. Our unemployment rates are soaring due to the effect that the lockdown has had on our economy and criminals are getting desperate.”
Abramjee advises South Africans to be alert at all times: “Take the necessary safety precautions. Criminals are desperate, and motor-vehicle-theft and hijacking gangs are dangerous,” he says. To avoid becoming a victim to crime on the roads, Abramjee, together with the South African Tyre Manufacturing Conference (SATMC), recommends drivers follow these guidelines to protect themselves against vehicle crime:
1) Make sure your parked car is locked, and valuables are out of sight
It is important to know which security systems you have in your vehicle and how they can protect you. Most modern cars are fitted with alarms and motion sensors to detect and deter any forceful entry. Remote signal jammers are used by criminals to prevent you from locking your car, allowing them quick and easy access to your vehicle and belongings inside.
“Always check if your car is, in fact, locked. A car will not signal that it is locked if the signal has been jammed, but it doesn't hurt to test the door handle and check,” says Darren Hayes-Powell, Chairman of the SATMC. “The physical key can be used to lock the car manually if it doesn't lock, but this does not always activate the alarm,” he warns. It is best to hide any personal items of value out of sight and park in a well-lit area if secure parking is not available.
2) Avoid stopping next to the road due to tyre failure
Stopping next to the road can be dangerous. Criminals use various tactics to force drivers to stop on the side of the road before attacking and robbing them. “In some areas, criminals throw objects from bridges or place sharpened objects on roads. My advice is to keep on driving to a safe spot even if it means damaging your tyre and rim...your life is more important,” says Abramjee.
“Fortunately, modern run-flat tyres allow you to drive and stop safely after encountering an obstacle, pothole or edge-break,” explains Hayes-Powell. If your tyre suddenly fails and it is safe to do so, try to get to the nearest petrol station or town for help. If that is not possible and an emergency stop is required, pull over and exercise caution. Avoid exiting your car and call the police or roadside assistance for help.
3) Learn how to change a tyre safely
Before embarking on a long trip, it's best not only to inspect your car's tyres but also to check your spare wheel's tread and pressure. You never know when the need may arise to change a tyre on the side of the road, and you don't want to be caught unawares. “If you haven't changed a tyre before, consider a training run. Familiarise yourself with the points underneath your car where the jack needs to be placed and inspect your gear thoroughly. Choose a dry day, a flat surface and practice changing your wheel when you have plenty of time,” says Hayes-Powell.
Always be aware of your surroundings, find a safe place to pull over and get as far off the road as possible. Do not try to change a wheel on soft, loose or uneven ground and avoid hills as your car may roll or collapse off the jack. Turn on your hazard lights, place your emergency triangle no less than 45 meters from your car to warn approaching vehicles, and do not step out onto the road.
4) Stay alert and drive defensively to avoid hijackings.
South Africa has one of the highest hijacking figures in the world – it is estimated that a motor vehicle is hijacked every 40 to 54 minutes. Most hijackings occur when the victim arrives at home; to block an escape path, hijackers pull up behind the victim's car as they get to their entrance gate. Wait in the street for your gate to open before pulling up into your driveway, keep your vehicle doors locked at all times and roll up your windows, especially when coming to a stop at an intersection. Avoid isolated, unfamiliar or high-crime areas and when stopped in traffic, always allow some distance between your car and the vehicle in front of you so that you can quickly pull away if necessary.
“Be vigilant, drive safely and continue to have your vehicle well maintained and roadworthy. If every driver follows these simple guidelines, they can decrease their chances of becoming a victim,” Hayes-Powell concludes.