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Tips to Stay Safe in Your Car

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 30, 2021

When you’re behind the wheel of a car, safe driving is important. But it’s also important to be aware of your surroundings and stay safe in your car.

How to Stay Safe While Driving

Be safe when driving by avoiding distractions:

  • Don’t text.
  • Don’t talk on cellphones. A phone conversation can be distracting. 
  • Don’t eat or drink.
  • Don’t be distracted by passengers.
  • Don’t adjust controls.

Keep yourself safe when you’re on the road by following these tips:

  • Keep your doors locked and windows closed when you’re in your car.
  • If you have to open the car windows, try not to roll them all the way down. 
  • Try not to drive alone, especially at night. 
  • Carry a charged cell phone with you.
  • Map out your route if you’re traveling in an unfamiliar area. Try to stay on highways and major roads instead of side streets. 
  • When you stop in traffic, try to leave enough space in case you need to move around other cars. 

Tips for Being Safe in a Parking Lot

When parking your car, continue to be aware of your surroundings. Here are some other tips to follow:

  • Park your car in brightly lit areas.
  • Don’t park near large trucks or vans, dumpsters, or anything that can limit your visibility.
  • If you’re using a commercial garage, find one that has attendants. 
  • Don’t leave valuables in plain view. Put them in the trunk or take them with you. Even in areas that you think are safe, don’t leave your valuables on the seat unattended. 
  • Before you get out of your car, have a look around. 
  • Remember where you parked so you don’t spend time wandering around the parking lot.
  • When walking to your car, be alert and walk purposefully. 
  • Be wary of people asking for directions or handing out flyers. If you’re approached, head in another direction. 
  • Stay away from your car if there’s someone lurking around it.
  • Hold your keys in your hand. Be ready to unlock your car and get in quickly. 
  • Take a quick look around you and inside your car before you get in. 
  • Once you get in, lock your doors.

What Is Carjacking?

Carjacking is when your car is stolen from you by force or fear. It’s not just a problem in big cities — it can happen in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas, too. Carjackers don’t choose their victims by race, age, or gender.

Carjacking is more likely to take place in these places:

  • ATMs
  • Stoplight or stop sign intersections 
  • Self-serve gas stations and car washes
  • Parking garages and parking lots 
  • Residential driveways and streets 
  • Highway exit and entry ramps, or any other places where drivers slow down or stop

In cities around the US, carjacking numbers are on the rise. A 10-year survey by the US Department of Justice found that an estimated 38,000 carjackings a year took place between 1993 and 2002. About 74% of carjackers were armed.

There isn’t any national data on carjackings, but some cities are finding that carjackings are increasing. For instance, carjackings in Chicago increased from 603 in 2019 to 1,415 in 2020.

Experts say that carjacking may be on the rise because:

  • New car alarms and anti-theft devices make it harder for thieves to steal unoccupied cars. 
  • Cars may be a quick way for criminals to get cash.
  • Some young people may see carjacking as a thrill, status symbol, or rite of passage.
  • It's a crime of opportunity.

What to Do if Your Car Is “Bumped”

"Bumping" is a method used by carjackers to force you to stop your car. A car bumps or rear-ends your car. When you get out to check, someone jumps into your car and drives off.

If a vehicle “bumps” your car or tries to signal that there’s something wrong with your car, don’t stop or get out straight away. Look around before you get out. Check out who’s in the car that bumped you. 

If the situation makes you feel uneasy, write down or memorize the car’s license plate number and make. Signal to the other driver to follow you. Then drive to a well-lit, busy place where there are people. If you get out of the car, take your keys and wallet or purse with you. Stay alert.

What to Do if You’re Carjacked

Here’s what to do if you’re carjacked:

  1. If you’re carjacked and your attacker has a weapon, give up your car. 
  2. Move away from the area as soon as possible.
  3. Report the carjacking to the police. 
  4. Be prepared to give information to the police. Along with the location of the carjacking, try to provide as much information as possible about your attacker, including:
    • Hair and eye color
    • Clothes
    • Gender
    • Race
    • Age 
    • Other features like scars, acne, or glasses
    • Car description, color, and make

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Australian Institute of Criminology: Carjacking in Australia: recording issues and future directions.”

California Highway Patrol: “Are You Vulnerable to a Carjacker?”

Los Angeles Police Department: “Carjacking.”

Metropolitan Police Department: “Avoiding Becoming a Victim of Carjacking.”

Pew Stateline: “Carjackings, Delivery Vehicle Thefts Spike During Pandemic.”

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