Fact Check

Carjacking Irony

A driver foils an attempted carjacking by ignoring a 'body' lying on the road, then inadvertently kills her four would-be attackers.

Published April 29, 1999


Claim:   A lone driver spots a "body" lying on the road but takes a detour around it instead of stopping to investigate. She later discovers she made the right choice — she'd driven over the four men lying in wait for her.



[Collected on the Internet, 1999]

A young lady on her way home in her 4 by 4 from an evening out approaches a set of traffic lights in a deserted area and sees the body of a man lying in the middle of the junction. Realising that hi-jackers often use this ruse to lure their unsuspecting victims out of their cars the young lady drives off the road and into the adjoining veld (overgrown wasteland) and skirts around the junction and the prostrate form. She drives to the local police station to report the incident (just in case the lifeless form is genuine). The police escort her back to the scene where there is no sign of the man who was lying in the road. However, after a little further investigation the police discover the dead bodies of 3 (or 4) armed men in the veld where they had been lying in wait for her to stop the vehicle. She had ridden over them when she took her detour around the "body".

[Collected on the Internet, 1999]

A woman was driving home one night (in her 4 wheel drive vehicle) along a remote road outside Johannesburg, an area where numerous car-jackings had taken place. Ahead of her she saw an abandoned car parked across the middle of the narrow road. Fully aware of the danger of stopping, or even slowing down, she pushed her foot down on the accelerator, and drove off the road, along the bumpy grass shoulder, and back onto the road when she had passed the car. When she got home she phoned the police, reported the suspicious vehicle and went to bed.

In the morning, she was paid a visit by the police. They asked for more information about the previous night's events. She could only repeat that she had driven at high speed, and fortunately, as she was in a 4 wheel drive was able to drive off the road, through the brush, and back onto the road. It then transpired that in doing so she had driven over and killed the three men who were lying in wait to ambush her.


Origins:   Though not heard too often in North America, the preceding legend has been rife in South Africa at least since 1996. (I'm told five out of every ten South Africans claims this story happened to a friend or


Any carjacking legend that has the intended victim not only foiling the attempt but also doing in a couple of the bad guys is going to find a very receptive audience in South Africa. Within the last decade, violent crime has become a fact of life in that country, with vicious carjackings suddenly almost an everyday occurrence even in the best neighborhoods. Many South Africans — black and white — will not now venture out of their homes without a gun. For good reason too: In 1997 the boys with the calculators worked out that every week in South Africa there were 434 murders, 7,210 thefts, 1,218 armed robberies and 952 rapes. That's nothing to sneeze at, considering there are only 40.5 million people in the whole country. To put these numbers in better perspective, South Africa's 1997 murder rate was 52 people per 100,000, compared with a U.S. rate of 6.8 the same year.

Armed carjacking occurs on an all too frequent basis, taking place mainly in relatively populated areas: at traffic lights and stop signs, in parking lots, and in the driveways of homes. In the first eleven months of 1998, there were 13,000 carjackings. Fewer than one in ten carjacking cases ends up in court, and only one in fifty ends in a conviction. Moreover, people end up dead over this.

Being carjacked has become a major fear of every South African vehicle owner. In 1994, 17,560 vehicles were hijacked (another 91,786 were simply stolen). In the process, 36 people were killed and another 851 injured.

South Africans are fighting back. As the problems worsened and more temperate responses failed to have appreciable effect (educating drivers about how to spot trouble and avoid confrontations, installing conventional anti-theft devices on vehicles), more drastic measures have taken their place. In 1999, it's possible to get your car equipped with the latest in personal security weapons — a driver-operated flamethrower called The Blaster.

The $650 device is built into the car doors, and is operated by pushing a button beside the foot pedals. It sends a man-high fireball from the car, engulfing the hijacker without endangering passengers or damaging the car's paint job.

That might sound like overkill, but consider this: conventional solutions have failed badly, often only working to escalate the danger to drivers. South Africa used to be a nation plagued by run-of-the-mill auto thefts in which cars were made off with while their owners were elsewhere. As auto theft statistics began to soar, owners invested in more and more sophisticated security devices. The most popular of these was the high-tech "immobilizer" which ensures the starter motor will accept only the original key.

Being crafty, the thieves, upon realizing that they too needed the original keys to start cars, shifted from theft to carjacking.

Ignition switches in many of the more expensive cars sold in South Africa were then fitted with combination locks. To start the car, the correct combination had to be punched into the device.

This was no problem to the carjackers; it just gave them more cause to be violent. They forced the code information from the carjacked drivers at gun or knife-point.

The security people got smarter. They patented a device which could neutralize the engine by remote control from a distance of several kilometers. The idea was that a driver could allow the thief to drive off with the vehicle and then "immobilize" it from a safe distance.

So the villains took drivers and passengers as hostages, and this inevitably resulted in killings.

At this point, owning a car that shoots a fireball starts to sound like a reasonable idea. In South Africa, what in other countries would be a loss-of-property situation becomes a life-and-death struggle.

Over the years, the advice given to South African drivers hasn't been much more effective at preventing carjackings than the non-aggressive security devices mentioned above. A 1995 article suggested ramming the car in front of you at an intersection if someone attempted to carjack your vehicle. (No, I've no idea what good that would do either.) A 1997 article gave the following advice for avoiding becoming a carjack statistic in South Africa. In short: Don't drive, and don't own a car. And if you must do either, then be prepared to never relax your vigilance.

  • Be particularly alert near house gates, driveways and garages. When entering or leaving your property, look out for suspicious vehicles or persons.

  • When stopped, be ready to accelerate quickly if approached by strangers.

  • Keep car doors and windows locked and valuables out of sight.

  • Ignore anyone indicating that there is something wrong with your vehicle and drive to the nearest garage or police station for a check.

  • When a vehicle breaks down, use a cellular phone to call for assistance, or get to a place of safety. Do not wait for other motorists to help.

  • Beware of people seeking directions, particularly in parking lots.

  • Check whether you are being followed. If you are, head for a police station or a crowded place. Avoid going down quiet streets.

Now that you're a little better acquainted with the carjacking situation in South Africa, you probably better understand the delight often expressed over this legend. Ordinary citizens are ending up hurt, maimed, or dead simply because they own cars someone else wants to sell for parts. That one of those ordinary citizens could not only escape unharmed but in the process kill off three or four of these murderers is seen as nothing but justice come at last.

Barbara "carjackin whirled" Mikkelson

Last updated:   31 March 2014


    Gordin, Joel.   "Dangerous Security."

    The Jerusalem Post.   24 January 1996   (Features; p. 9).

    Lewthwaite, Gilbert.   "Hot New Car Option: A Flamethrower."

    The Times-Picayune.   4 February 1999   (p. A14).

    Lewthwaite, Gilbert.   "In Summering South Africa, It's a Time for Taking."

    The Baltimore Sun.   25 December 1997   (p. A25).

    The [Montreal] Gazette.   "Ram Cars, Insurers Say."

    22 December 1995   (p. B1).