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Hijacking – how to get yourself and your family out safely

I was recently at the Ford South Africa Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) event to share car seat safety tips. I joined Johan, who was the MasterDrive expert on what to do in a hijacking situation. There were five groups, so I went through the session often enough to have it properly sink in. Like most South African parents, I read and memorised a hijacking article that came out a few years back. Within seconds of starting this session I realised there were some massive discrepencies between what I was learning and what I had read. While this isn’t the kind of thing I usually share here, I had a lot of questions on a few points I shared online and sharing is what I do best. Here are some of the biggest things I learned about getting yourself and your family out of a hijacking situation safely.

Hijacking, much like car seat safety, is one of those topics that South Africans try to avoid.

hijacking SM

According to Stats SA’s annual Victims of Crime Survey 2017,  30,664 people experiences a hijacking between April 2016 and March 2017. If you divide that by 365 days, it breaks down to 84 a day! That number is too high to ignore.  You can imagine what this did to my anxiety levels! Living in fear is not the answer, being prepared and having a plan is. Before creating a plan to get out of a hijacking situation, what can you do to avoid being a victim of a hijacking in the first place?

Stay alert! There is no such place as “nowhere”.

One of the things Johan kept saying at the Ford DSFL event is that a hijacker doesn’t come from “nowhere”… There is no such place as “nowhere”. Some of the most common places a hijacking will happen are at a red robot, at home as you are leaving or arriving, at a petrol station or in a shopping mall parking lot.

Have you ever noticed that as soon as you start slowing down, you reach for your phone? Red robot? A quick scan of your Instagram or Facebook timeline. Waiting for your electric gate to open… A quick whatsapp to your partner because you forgot the milk or a scan of your mail before you head into morning traffic. Walking out of a store… A quick check if you have missed a call from someone or another peek at social media.

If you are looking down, you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings or anybody approaching you or your car.

hijacking aware of surroundingsBe prepared
  • Before you leave, take your keys out of your handbag or pocket. Don’t stand fumbling for them with your hands full at the car door.
  • If there is an official car guard offering to help carry things to your car, say yes. R5 for an extra set of hands and eyes is not expensive.
  • Take the “long way” around your car… Glance down at your tyres and the area around your car for any sign of interference and check your back seat. This will only take a second or two extra.
  • Decide whether you are going to put your things in the car or in the boot before getting there, deposit them and get into the car.
  • If you have your kids with you, do not take any nonsense. Make it clear this is not a time to play games. Get them safely strapped into their car seats and get into the car.
  • Lock the doors, put on your safety belt and drive away. Do not check your phone, make a snapchat video, play with the radio or have a snack. Don’t sit in a stationary car.
There is no hijacking a moving car

If you have to stop your car, switch it off and get out. Collecting your kids at school? Get out and walk away. Stopping for petrol? Get out and stretch your legs. Do not leave your partner sitting in the car in a shopping mall parking lot. If you arrive somewhere together, everybody gets out. If you have kids, it is take them in or leave them at home. Sleeping child in a car seat? (This one made me feel quite tearful…) Wake them up or carry them out… Do not sit in your car waiting for a man with a gun to activate your hijacking plan.

But what about the red robot?

You cannot switch off your car and get out at a red robot… But, you can slow down as soon as you see it changing, approaching it slowly. There is no point in racing up to it only to sit, stuck… (This will also mean less idling, which is better for your fuel economy and the environment.) A slow approach will also allow you to take in the area you are approaching. If you have no choice but to come to a full stop, leave as much room between yourself and the car in front of you as you can.

hijacking prevention red robot

Home ground

  • Have a look at your current routines and habits. Assess whether you could make changes that will make you a less likely target.
  • If you approach your home and you see anybody who should not be there, go around the block. Still there and your sixth sense is tingling? Go somewhere safe.
  • If you feel as if you have been followed home; drive straight to a nearby police station.
  • Do you know how far away from your home your gate remote works? Test it. Open your gate on your approach to avoid having to stop and wait.
  • If you do have to stop, do not turn towards the gate, allowing someone to block you from behind. Stay in the road to allow you to drive away if needed.
  • If you are alone and have to get out of your car to open the gate, leave the keys in the car and the door open. If they are going to take the car, let them do it without you in it. And, if not, getting out and back in as fast as possible is your safest option. (I honestly didn’t think in the moment to ask Johan what to do if you are alone with kids. I would assume that you would need to find a plan that works for you. My guess is that he would say to stop the car completely. Get everybody out and inside the house and then drive the car in and park. This was his advice for people who were driving into the garage before unloading the family. I think I would find a way to get an electric gate.)
Know your car

These things didn’t occur to me until I saw Johan blitz test people. Movements to get yourself and everybody else out of your car should be muscle memory.

  • Where does your car unlock from the inside?
  • Do you have a double press locking system (1 press opens the driver’s door, 2 presses open the other doors)?
  • Do you have an antihijack system on your car? If you do, do not activate it while you are still with the car! You want to get yourself and your family out of the car and out of the situation as fast as possible.
Your childrenhijacking best place for car seat

The safest place for your child’s car seat to get out of a hijacking situation is behind the passenger seat. If you have two children, the younger child should be behind the passenger seat and the older behind the driver. This is so that you can reach back with your left hand and release them if needed.

Johan couldn’t give a finite answer on how to release your child from the seat, because there are so many different makes and models of seats and cars.  I have been considering this. You will need to practice with your own car seat in your own car. Practice using your left hand only, so you keep your right hand palm up, even if you need to turn your body slightly to reach the back seat.

If you cannot reach the harness clip of a rear facing car seat, see if you can find a way to release the seat itself to give you access to the buckle. MOST seat belt installed car seats will become easier to manoevre if you release the seat belt. And you only need to be able to move the car seat slightly to reach the buckle.

While we spend forever teaching our children NOT to open the car seat buckle, in this one instance, having them know how to do it is a definite plus. My plan has changed on how to deal with this after the Ford Driving Skills for Life event. Once your child is old enough to follow basic instructions, you train them to release the harness on a key word. ONLY on a key word.

Hijacking car seat release

The children should come through between the front seats and get out through the driver’s door. (I am going to be training Charly to do this from now on.) So you say the key word and your child should instantly unbuckle themselves and come to you on the front seat. The key word mustn’t be something that you could say accidentally!

If you have two children, on the key word, the oldest should immediately release themselves and then their younger sibling.

If you are alone with a child too young to release themselves; practice using your left hand to get them loose. This is the one instance where I might suggest you switch off your airbag and install your infant seat on the front passenger seat. Usually I don’t recommend it, as it is the least safe spot in the car. But I believe if I lived in Gauteng, where the hijacking rate is excessively high, I might well consider it. (The hijacking numbers were almost 4 times higher at 8610 in Gauteng than the 2200 in Western Cape.)

Your hijacking extraction plan

The only rule he had was that you do not give up the driver’s seat while there are still children strapped in in the car. As soon as you move out of the driver’s seat, the hijacker can move into it and drive away.

  • Hands up, in front of your body. Do NOT try to negotiate. Your car is not worth your life.
  • Say your key word to get your kids or passengers following the plan.
  • Put your car into neutral, handbrake up and leave it on. You want them to drive away as soon as you are clear of the car.
  • The hijacker will watch your right hand, so keep it open at face level so that they can see your right palm. You will need to be able to work with your left hand to get yourself and your family safely out of the car. PRACTICE this.
hijacking hands up
  • Hook your right thumb under your seatbelt at your shoulder, keeping your palm exposed. Hook your left thumb over the seatbelt at your chest and use it to guide your hand down the belt to release it. Because you have your right thumb holding the seatbelt, you can push it off you and prevent any chance of it hooking or tripping you up.
  • Practice getting out of the car by turning your whole body, legs together and planting both feet them firmly on the ground. You want to be as steady as possible.
  • Say “baby” or “children” loudly and clearly, and repeatedly if needed, so they know you are not alone in the car.
  • When your children are in the front seat, say “children” again and turn your shoulder to protect them with your body as you lift them into your arms and step away from the front door of the car. If your children are slightly older, get them to step out of the car and hold tightly onto your clothing. You can teach them to hold tightly to belt loops on pants or to twist their hands into your top.
hijacking johan masterdrive
  • If the car is parked in a position to move forward, your plan should include that everybody getting out of the car moves to the back and side of the car. If it will reverse out, then you all move to the front and side. Never directly in front or behind!
  • Don’t look a hijacker in the eye. Make yourself as small as possible. You do not want to look as if you are challenging them in any way.
  • As soon as they are in the car and driving away, get out of there.

I am sure there are a dozen things that were shared that I have already forgotten. One of my big goals before the end of this year is to go join the MasterDrive team and do all their driver classes. They have an in-depth hijack risk management class that I am going to take. But there are also classes for defensive driving, road safety, avoiding a collision and even how to drive more economically.

Until I began driving Evie, I was a terrified driver. She gives me a massive sense of security with all her amazing safety features and just because she is so BIG. But Derek, the training Director of MasterDrive, reminded me that while driving Evie gives me a sense of confidence on the road… I will likely drive many more cars in my life that don’t offer everything she does, which will leave me vulnerable unless I keep practicing conscious safe driving.

#CapeTown have you seen this gorgeous @fordsouthafrica Everest on the roads yet? Meet Evie 😍 She is our mascot ♥️ On her sides you can see a kiddy shaped outline and if you are near her, you can put your little one up against her to check their height! The bottom line is at 105cm, and if your little one is taller than that line (and not in a Volvo Maxway or BeSafe iZi Plus car seat) then it is time to move them to a full back booster seat!! There is a second line at the top of the outline’s head which is 1.5m tall. It is only at this height that your child can safely use the car’s seatbelt without the support of a full back booster seat! Keep an eye on our pages as we will be kicking off a competition where you can win a top of the range luxury car seat just by photographing the car and tagging us online ♥️ #CarseatFullstop #DrivenByFord Every child. Every time. No matter what.
A post shared by Mandy Lee Miller (@carseatfullstop) on

If you have any questions on the above article, please feel free to ask in the comments. If I don’t know the answer, I will contact the MasterDrive team and see if I can find it for you.

Feel free to share this post with your friends and family, you never know who might find themselves in a situation they aren’t prepared for. Please make sure that you and your family have a plan in place.

Sending all the love xxx

 

7 replies on “Hijacking – how to get yourself and your family out safely”

Very interesting and scary!! I’ve always had my sons car seat installed directly behind me. I feel safer like that but clearly that’s incorrect. Thank you for sharing this scary but real situational information.

Such a good article Mand, this terrifies me to the point of tears just thinking about what could happen if you aren’t prepared 🙁

Huge hugs. It scared me to write it, which is why it took so long from the event to hitting publish. But the preparation and having a plan in place can ease it a little <3

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