“Carjacking” is the term used to describe the hostile invasion of an automobile by an assailant. There are several deductions we can make from available data on carjackings. If you’re confronted by a potential carjacker, or by an assailant who tries to entice you into a car, you can presume that they are armed. You face the greatest risk of being carjacked in confined areas while going about your typical routine. Remaining in open spaces with good visibility might decrease your risk, but not by a great margin. The bottom line is that you should always remain vigilant.

Stay alert and live defensively. If something looks or feels out of place, it likely is. Get your keys ready before you leave the store so you aren’t fumbling for them in the parking lot. Be particularly wary of people who are loitering, panhandling or handing out flyers. Criminals frequently use such activities to troll for victims.

Whenever practical, park in well-lit areas and as close as possible to a building’s entrance. Never leave valuables where they are visible in your car. Also avoid parking near wooded areas, large vehicles or structures that might impede visibility or potential routes of escape. After you park, make a quick recon before you unlock your vehicle. If anything seems out of place, circle around for a better vantage point. A little time devoted to precaution can abort problems before they start.

While driving, retain your situational awareness. Leave enough space at stoplights and intersections to maneuver quickly if need be. A sunroof is fun in good weather, but try to keep it shut if you’re stuck in traffic or traversing questionable neighborhoods. Keeping to the center lane makes it harder for criminals to box you in and leaves you with greater tactical flexibility in the event of a crisis.

Stay Alert, Stay Alive

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The first line of defense is always awareness. Take note of your surroundings and try to think like a criminal. Stay alert, stay alive.

Keep your doors locked at all times. At the risk of sounding cold, don’t open your door or lower your window for anyone you don’t know. If in doubt, stay buttoned up and dial 911. Unless they are actively bleeding, anyone you meet on the road who is in trouble will likely be OK until the proper authorities arrive on the scene.

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It’s also a good idea to mind your cell phone. In the 21st century, particularly in built-up areas, help is seldom far away. If you feel like you are getting into trouble, dial 911 and leave the phone line open so the dispatcher can hear and record what is going on around you.

During a particularly unsettling encounter in a small Southern town where I once lived, a man in a car confronted a teenage girl walking alone across a crowded local Wal-Mart parking lot on a sunny afternoon. The man flashed a gun and told her to get into the car. Thinking quickly, the young lady instead screamed, threw her parcels at the man and hit 911 on her cell phone. The suspect pulled away in frustration and circled around the back of the department store, where he threw his gun into some bushes without slowing down. The cops arrived before he could get out of the parking lot and took him into custody. Once interrogated at the police station, the man was found to have duct tape and half a dozen plastic shower curtains in his trunk. That leads us to our next point: Do whatever you can to make sure you do not end up in the stranger’s car.

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I once had an experienced law enforcement officer tell me that you are safer taking a bullet than getting into a car with a stranger who orders you to. While I am not completely sure this could be statistically proven, it is intuitively sound advice. Once you are in the car and have seen a criminal’s face, you are nothing but a liability.

If you do find yourself in a car with a stranger against your will, act erratically. A young lady on a local college campus found herself carjacked and subsequently tore down the town’s main street at 80 mph. She then intentionally rammed a parked car and escaped without injury thanks to her airbags. The carjacker fled the scene but was apprehended later.

If you are carjacked, try to note as many details about your attacker and your surroundings as possible. If all else fails and you are unable to escape, be vigilant for opportunities and fight like your life depends on it. If you have to fight, hands and feet are always an option, but weapons are typically more effective, especially handguns and pepper spray.

Fight For Your Life

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If you are the driver in a carjacking situation, then your car is a weapon. It is big and powerful, even if you are not. Like the young lady mentioned earlier, do not hesitate to sacrifice the vehicle if that is what it takes to escape. An automobile is devastating in the right hands.

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A set of car keys arrayed between your fingers turns a modest punch into something much more effective. We are remarkably resilient organisms, but the eyes, ears and groin will always be weak spots. Pepper spray is also a pretty good deterrent. It does not have an expiration date, is easy to use and proves utterly miserable for those downrange of it. Fingernails, flashlights or anything else hard and handy in the car can potentially make an attacker sufficiently miserable to call it a day. However, what really works best is something designed specifically for the task.

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Carrying a handgun concealed is at least theoretically possible in all 50 states. If your physical capabilities and emotional constitution are up to the responsibility, get some training and buy a gun. A firearm puts even the smallest, most frail elderly woman on the same level as the most robust criminal, and they know it. The decision to carry a gun is no small matter, and it should be pondered soberly. Once the decision is made, however, incorporate whatever safety measures are necessary in your home and practice with the gun until you can manage it in the dark. Modern firearms are safe, concealable, reliable and effective in the right hands.

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Mobility is the key to our industrialized society, and we spend an inordinate amount of time in our vehicles as a result. Because of this, criminals rightfully view motor vehicle travel as an opportunity. Despite these everyday dangers, a little effort, preparation, vigilance and training can make you sufficiently prepared to motivate a carjacker to look elsewhere for easier targets to prey on.

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