Like the rest of the country, criminals are resuming their activities under eased lockdown restrictions. Picture: TIMESLIVE
Like the rest of the country, criminals are resuming their activities under eased lockdown restrictions. Picture: TIMESLIVE

As more people return to work under an eased lockdown, so too are car thieves returning to their nefarious ways.

Vehicle crime is increasing dramatically as the country’s Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, according to Tracker SA. The automobile tracking company reports a six-fold increase in its vehicle recovery activities compared to the first week of lockdown, with figures that are now only 35% lower than pre-lockdown averages.

“While SA experienced a significant drop in vehicle crime during the national lockdown, activities are returning to normal levels as country restrictions are being lifted,” says Ron Knott-Craig, Executive: Operational Services at Tracker SA.

Data recorded from the company’s 1.1-million installed vehicle base showed a 90% reduction in the number of vehicle recovery activities nationally during the first week of the lockdown compared to normal.

“This is in line with a preliminary police report that noted a decline in trio crimes, namely car and truck hijackings, business robberies and house robberies, down to 2,098 in the first week of the national lockdown from 8,853 during the same period in 2019,” says Knott-Craig.

However, car crime is increasing as South Africans return to work and criminals resume their operations as the country’s restrictions are being lifted.

The graph shows how Tracker vehicle recoveries reduced under lockdown, then increased again as restrictions were eased. Graphic: SUPPLIED
The graph shows how Tracker vehicle recoveries reduced under lockdown, then increased again as restrictions were eased. Graphic: SUPPLIED

“During the lockdown extension, the number of vehicle recovery activities increased nearly three-fold compared to the first week of lockdown. The first week of level 4 restrictions has seen vehicle recovery activities more than double compared to the lockdown extension figures, representing a six-fold increase from the first week of lockdown to figures that are now only 35% lower than pre-lockdown averages,” he said.

Interestingly, during the first three weeks of lockdown, hijackings comprised a higher percentage of the Tracker vehicle recovery activities compared to theft, with a 63/37% split compared to a 50/50% split prior to the lockdown.

The company attributes this to most likely being an opportunistic tactic with criminals preying on vehicles out in the open, while other vehicles were securely locked away.

Further crime trends noted by Tracker include an increase in vehicles being targeted for their loads, particularly food items and fast-moving consumable goods. Clients are also being robbed of their valuables and in some instances large amounts of cash.

“Like the rest of the country, criminals are resuming their activities under eased restrictions,” says Knott-Craig. “South Africans should be particularly vigilant as day-to-day life goes back to normal, especially when returning home from shopping."

Eugene Herbert, MD of driver training company MasterDrive, says motorists should be aware of potential hijackers in the three areas where they are most vulnerable: their driveways, intersections and in shopping centre parking lots.

He offers the following tips to reducing hijacking risk:

• Reverse your car: whether into your driveway or a parking spot this allows you to quickly escape in a dangerous situation. Additionally, park against a wall or a similar barrier so that someone cannot sneak up behind you.

• Park parallel to your house: be ready to leave suddenly while you wait for the gate to open.

• Be vigilant: watch your gate until it is fully closed once you pull into your garden, familiarise yourself with the people normally at your usual intersections, and if someone looks different to the usual beggars and hawkers, watch them carefully. Do not let people distract you at traffic lights.

•Anticipate traffic light changes to avoid being stationary at the light.

• Blind spot: criminals often stand in your blind spot, so do not forget to glance over your shoulder even when stationary.

• Do not block yourself in: always have an escape route 

• Be ready: have your keys in your hand before you reach your parked car and do not waste time when putting your shopping in the boot.

• Assess the situation: if driving away will be difficult with high risk of something going wrong, surrendering your vehicle could be safer. It depends on the unique situation you face.