“Carjacking” is a term first coined in 1991 by writers of The Detroit News to describe an epidemic of auto thefts at gunpoint that plagued their city. The crime first became prevalent in the 1980s, when anti-theft alarm systems made old-school car theft more challenging for criminals. Unlike an ordinary car thief, who wants your vehicle but wants nothing to do with you, a carjacker plans to meet you face-to-face and is ready and willing to use violence in the process.

Despite the fact that it’s been around for decades, many states still don’t have specific carjacking laws. Instead, they categorize it as robbery, auto theft, or aggravated assault, so tracking it statistically is challenging. The most comprehensive study of carjacking was done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), which analyzed it in detail during the period 1993 to 2002. While somewhat dated, their study still provides key insights into the nature of the crime — and an excellent basis for defending against it.

Carjacking by the Numbers

According to the NCVS study, about 38,000 carjackings occur each year in the U.S. Most take place in urban or suburban areas, generally not far from the victim’s home. Other revealing statistics from the report include:

• 63 percent of carjackings occur within five

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