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Carjacking is a form of hijacking, where the crime is of stealing a motor vehicle and so also armed assault when the vehicle is occupied. Historically, such as in the rash of semi-trailer truck hijackings during the 1960s, the general term hijacking was used for that type of vehicle abduction, which did not often include kidnapping of the driver, and concentrated on the theft of the load, rather than the vehicle itself. During the later day car theft crime[clarification needed], typically, the carjacker is armed, and the driver is forced out of the car with the threat of bodily injury. In other rarer cases, the driver is kidnapped under the assault by a weapon and is retained as a passenger under duress, or made to drive his or her abductor. Women are particularly victimized in this latter method. The word is a portmanteau of car and hijacking. The term was coined by EJ Mitchell, an editor with The Detroit News. The News first used the term in an August 28, 1991 report on the murder to Ruth Wahl, a 22-year-old Detroit drugstore cashier who was killed when she wouldn't surrender her Suzuki Sidekick, and in an investigative report examining the rash of what police called at the time "robbery armed unlawful driving away an automobile, plaguing Detroit.
The crime is extremely hazardous, threatening the physical safety of both the carjacker and the victim. To secure the car, the carjacker may sometimes shoot the victim or physically push/pull the victim out of the driver's seat to force him or her out of the car.
Carjackings in the world
Carjacking is a significant problem in South Africa, where it is called hijacking; there are some roadsigns warning people that certain areas are hotspots. There were 16,000 carjackings in one year (18 times the American rate per capita), and 60 murders a year resulting from these.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several new, unconventional anti-carjacking systems designed to harm the attacker were developed and marketed in South Africa, where carjacking had become such a serious problem that they faced little resistance from local police and judiciary bodies. Among these was the now defunct Blaster, a small flame thrower that could be mounted to the underside of a vehicle.
English law has three levels of offence under the Theft Act 1968, each pertaining to the mens rea (Latin for "guilty mind") and the degree of violence used. The least serious is TWOC, which covers any unauthorized taking of a "conveyance", s1 theft applies when the carjacker intends to permanently deprive the owner of property, and violent carjacking is an aggravated form of theft under §8 robbery. Amid increasing carjacking cases in the UK, there has been some discussion whether specific carjacking laws are necessary. The current view is that all aspects of the offence are covered in the law, whether as road traffic offences, public order offenses, the use of weapons and firearms, etc., and there is no benefit in consolidating all the elements in one offence.
Prior to the 90s the term "carjacking" didn't exist. With the murder of Ruth Wahl in Detroit, a new word was coined, new laws were passed and a new crime became part of the American landscape. Before 1991 cars were hijacked or simply stolen. But in 1991, Wahl, a 22-year-old Detroit cashier, and some friends went out in her new car and ended up on a deserted street. Some men appeared in a brown station wagon, chased Wahl and her friends. They finally stopped her, shot and killed her, then took her car. Suddenly, a crime that hadn't even existed a year earlier was causing nationwide anguish. Detroit alone reported 205 carjackings in one 21-day period. In 1992, Congress passed a law making it a federal crime to use a weapon to steal a motor vehicle that's been shipped through interstate commerce "through force or violence or intimidation." Throughout 1993, articles about carjackings appeared at the rate of more than one a week in newspapers throughout the country.
In the United States, a law was passed in 1992 making carjacking a federal crime. This occurred amidst great media attention into the apparent spate of carjacking thefts, several of which resulted in homicides. The November 29, 1992, killing of two Osceola County[clarification needed] men by carjackers using a stolen 9mm pistol resulted in the first Federal prosecution of a fatal carjacking.
The United States Department of Justice estimates that in about half of all carjacking attempts, the attacker succeeds in stealing the victim's car. It's estimated that, between 1987 and 1992, about 35,000 carjacking attempts took place per year; and, between 1992 and 1996, about 49,000 attempts took place per year.
The first known carjacking took place on the open road in March 1912. The Bonnot Gang targeted a luxury Dion Bouton in the Senart Forest, between Paris and Lyon, France. The armed chauffeur and young secretary in the vehicle were killed.
Carjacking in popular culture
- Video games such as Grand Theft Auto, The Godfather: The Game, Driver, Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction and Scarface: The World Is Yours feature carjacking as part of the gameplay which has attracted criticism from public figures.
- The South African movie Tsotsi features a carjacking as the main plot element.
- In the Family Guy episode "Road to Rupert", Stewie and Brian carjack a man so they can get back to Rhode Island.
- Larry Niven's short story "The Deadlier Weapon" features a carjacking.
- Crash is based on a real carjacking.
- Hijack Stories (2000 film) is a film about South African township crime, of which the main theme is carjacking. One of the main characters robs 10 cars and parks them in front of a police station.
- Aircraft hijacking
- Anti-hijack system
- Auto theft
- Castle doctrine
- Chop shop
- Federal crime
- Hijacking (disambiguation)
- Hostage taking
- Lorry hijacking
- Murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
- Truck hijacking
- The Detroit News, August 28, 1991
- "Flamethrower now an option on S. African cars". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/9812/11/flame.thrower.car/. Retrieved April 28, 2010.
- "Carjacking Reports Increase In Area -- Police Told Of Five Incidents Over Thanksgiving Holiday." Seattle Times Saturday, November 26, 1994
- "YOUTHS STEAL GUNS TO STEAL YOUTHS' LIVES – THE GUN USED IN THE NATION'S FIRST FEDERAL CARJACKING CASE WAS BOUGHT LEGALLY, – THEN STOLEN. IT IS AN EVER-INCREASING PHENOMENON.." THE ORLANDO SENTINEL 30 Jan. 1994, 3 STAR, LOCAL & STATE: B1. NewsBank America's Newspapers. Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX. retrieved on 10 Aug. 2009. <http://infoweb.newsbank.com> available at <http://docs.newsbank.com/s/InfoWeb/aggdocs/NewsBank/0EB4F19656C2BBB7/0FC00B934DD580D0>
- U.S. DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics report on carjackings in the U.S., 1992–1996
- Do carjackers place fliers on the rear windows of automobiles? No. (from snopes.com)