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Carjacking is the unlawful seizure of an automobile. It is 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 reporter Scott Bowles and EJ Mitchell, an editor with The Detroit News. The News first used the term in an August 28, 1991 report on the murder of Ruth Wahl, a 22-year-old Detroit drugstore cashier who was killed when she would not 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. Then the public is put at risk by the speeding, reckless and generally unsafe driving of the carjacker. The carjacker typically intends to use the stolen vehicle in another crime, or to make a fast getaway from a crime he has just committed.
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 1998 (18 times the American rate per capita), and 60 murders a year resulting from these.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s (decade), 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 1990s the term "carjacking" did not 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, then began chasing Wahl and her friends. They finally stopped her, shot and killed her, and then took her car. Suddenly, a crime that had not 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 "through force or violence or intimidation" a motor vehicle that had been shipped through interstate commerce. 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 Florida 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 is 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. Many U.S. states, such as Louisiana and Arizona, include defending oneself against forcible entry of an occupied motor vehicle as part of their definition of justifiable homicide.
In Saudi Arabia, carjacking is a capital offence.
The first known carjacking took place on the open road in March 1912. The Bonnot Gang targeted a luxury Dion Bouton in the Forest of Sénart, between Paris and Lyon, France. The armed chauffeur and young secretary in the vehicle were killed.
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