by Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes
For those of us who write espionage or crime novels, knowledge of crime is essential. My writing partner, Jay Holmes, is a 45+ year veteran of field intelligence operations, and he has learned a thing or two about criminal activities over the years. Since many crimes that occur in real life and in fiction happen in driveways, today we will be addressing two of the most common driveway crimes–carjacking and kidnapping.
Carjacking is a crime that has always been popular, but the crime has skyrocketed since Covid. For example, Chicago reported over 1800 carjackings last year.
In most cities, the arrest rate of carjackers is extremely low. Again to pick on Chicago, less than 5% of their carjackers are ever charged with the crime, so unless the victim shoots the carjacker, carjacking is a low-risk crime with high rewards. Because the arrest and conviction rate is so dismal, the biggest threat to carjackers is picking the wrong victim.
Intriguing Facts About Carjacking
Carjackers often work in teams. One of the most common places for them to strike is in the car owner’s driveway, and the most common time for a carjacking is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Increasingly, these teams involve children, some of them as young as ten years old. In DC, a 12-year-old was arrested and charged with four carjackings. An entire carjacking gang could be teenagers and pre-teens, so involving youth in this crime in books would be quite realistic fiction.
Most carjackers target random cars that present opportunities at intersections and gas stations. In contrast, if they are looking in a neighborhood, they likely will have cased that neighborhood and made notes of the comings and goings of the residents.
Carjackers are most likely to target a vehicle at a home with good hiding places near the driveway, such as shrubs, trees, or other cars, preferably with no security cameras or motion-sensing lights in the area.
Plenty of good places to hide.
Once the driver opens the car door, they are most vulnerable when they have one foot in the car and one foot out on the ground as they are entering or exiting the vehicle. That is the sweet spot for a carjacker.
The carjacker can then rush forward, slam the driver’s leg in the door, grab them, and throw them hard to the ground.
If the keys are in the driver’s hand, the carjacker can easily grab them. If the driver has a keyless fob, the carjacker can grab their purse or make a quick search of pockets to find it.
If the carjacker slams the driver in the door and then throws them to the ground, the carjacker will want to do this so hard that the driver is too hurt and/or stunned to fight back. On the downside, when carjackers do this, keys can fly in any direction.
Writing a Plausible Carjacking Scene
When writing such scenes, this is a great opportunity to create a problem for an antagonist if they don’t see where the keys go. It could also give a bright protagonist an opportunity to throw their keys, making it difficult for the carjacker to accomplish their goal.
Though it is sometimes seen in fiction, it is rare that a carjacker would hide in a backseat and wait for the driver to get into the car. Most carjackers target random cars because they want . . . a car.
If they wait in a car for a person to get in, they then have a person and a car. The carjacker must then kidnap the person, creating its own set of problems. Plus, they have to then figure out how to get the driver out of the car. One way would be to order them out at knifepoint or gunpoint. Most people will get out of a car when threatened that way, leaving the car to the carjacker.
If the carjacker just wants a car, there are easier ways.
Car Owner’s Defenses
All of a car owner’s best defenses happen before they ever get near the car. See nine steps you can take for greater driveway safety.
Don’t be this soft target.
- Clear away any good hiding places near the driveway.
- Install good lighting in the driveway. Any kind of lighting will do.
- If the driver parks in the garage, keep the garage clean so that no one can easily hide in it.
- Scan the front yard and driveway for anything amiss while still in the safety of the doorway or, if just pulling in, in the safety of the car.
- Pay extra attention when approaching the car while holding packages, children, or anything that keeps your hands occupied.
- If exiting the vehicle with packages, look around first, then get out and look around again before reaching into the car for the packages. Remember that it is better to make multiple trips than to be incapacitated by being overloaded.
- Do not text or talk on the phone between the doorway and the vehicle.
- Keep your purse strapped across the body, making it more difficult for a carjacker to grab it with the key fob inside.
- If expecting trouble, have a weapon in hand and be ready to use it. To do this without freaking out the neighbors, hold it inside a loose pocket or drape a sweater over the hand.
Preventative measures to avoid an attack are always the best defense against carjacking and other crimes in the driveway.
The most common way to pull off a snatch, or kidnapping, is for a team of assailants to pull up in a panel van and quickly grab the target off the street. This can be accomplished in seconds. However, a snatch from a driveway is also a viable option.
As a general rule, kidnappers work in teams of at least two and rarely more than three. If they are smart, one of their team is a woman, because women are disarming for most people.
If a kidnapping team is going to make a snatch in a driveway, they will likely have a woman who looks harmless to approach the target and an armed partner to subdue the target. They will also probably have a third person to drive the getaway vehicle.
This little old lady doesn’t stand a chance.
The woman on the team would, like the carjacker, approach when the driver has the door open but has not yet stepped into the vehicle. She would come up the driveway with a story about a lost child, misdelivered mail, or some other normal reason to approach a neighbor. Meanwhile, the partner is hiding nearby around the edge of the house, in some bushes, on the other side of the car, etc.
When the driver is distracted by the woman, the partner rushes up, tasers or otherwise subdues the target, and tosses them in the car. The woman jumps in with them, and they drive the target’s car a couple blocks away to the getaway vehicle. While driving, they drug the target. Then they park the target’s car, make the transfer, and make their escape.
It is also possible that a kidnapper would wait in the back seat of a car until the target gets in. This is far less common, and they would most likely be someone who is working alone.
Again, the best defenses are those listed above. By the time someone is in a vehicle with a kidnapper, there are not many options left to them. However, “not many” is not the same as “nothing.”
Kubatons by Kantas Products Co., LTD
1. Carry pepper spray and/or have it handy in the car.
The downside of this is that one must be very careful where they spray it, or they could hurt themselves more than the attacker.
2. Carry a perfume spray bottle with ammonia.
Again, one must be careful where they spray it, but on the upside, such a thing in a car or a purse will likely go undetected and unchallenged in areas with strict weapons control.