File photo: Geoffrey Fairchild

Johannesburg - Having your car stolen or, worse still, hijacked, is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to you, especially if you are one of the majority of South African motorists for whom insurance is an unaffordable luxury.

The faster you get the information out there, the better your chances of getting your wheels back - but who do you call? What do you tell them? Do you know the year model of your car? Do you have its VIN number - or even its registration number - in your phone’s memory?

According to police, 16 717 cars were hijacked or stolen in South Africa during the 2016/2017 financial year - that’s 45 a day, every day. It’s also 14 percent more than during the previous financial year.

But now tech-savvy boffins are developing apps that can make the experience a little less traumatic.

One of them, Pro-Active South Africa, will distribute preloaded information about your vehicle to the police, and to 156 security companies, within seven seconds, in the event that it’s been stolen or hijacked.

Not catered for

Company director Ryno Schutte said he started the project when it became clear that lower-income motorists - eight million of them, or about 70 percent of South African road users - weren’t catered for by traditional car insurers, nor could they afford vehicle-tracking devices.

“The project started in 2012.“ he said. “We did a year-and-a-half of programming, writing an application that distributes your pre-loaded vehicle information to 156 security companies nationally, as well as to law enforcement agencies. We launched in 2013 - so we’ve been in operation for five years.”

A similar crime combating app, Namola, was launched in 2017.

Schutte explained that although Pro-Active was community based, there was still a cost implication, because the company still needed to cover operational costs for its database and vehicles. Subscribers pay an annual R99 - that’s R8.25 a month.

“The client pre-loads all the information into our website,” he explained. “It can be accessed through a laptop, tablet or mobile device,” Schutte said. That’s what you pay a car guard - you can’t even buy a cooldrink for that nowadays.”

Snowball effect

As soon as an incident occurs, he said, the subscriber activates the app from his phone, tablet or computer and the information goes out. The platform has a non-disclosure agreement with the country’s law enforcement agencies, but he did say the information also gets distributed to banks throughout Africa.

“The reason we did that,” he explained, “is that as soon as the car is reported hijacked or stolen, the snowball effect is that you not only get your vehicle information out but it also prevents the car from being used in other crimes such as armed robberies.

“We‘ve had a 100 percent success rate to date,” he said.

The Star