The driver, not the car, is the primary carjacking target, N.Y.C. police find

NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- So you think you're an unlikely target for a carjacking because that smoke-belching, roach-infested heap you're driving with the four dented fenders and no radio is so ratty that no one else could possibly want it because you don't even want it?

Well, you might be wrong, especially if, unlike your car, you look prosperous.


In its first analysis ever of the crime of carjacking, the New York City police Auto Crime Division has concluded that in most cases, it's just another way to rob people of their watches and wallets and whatnot -- an alternative to mugging a pedestrian that carries the fringe benefit of a ready getaway car.

"The carjacking is incidental to the robbery of the person," said Lt. Robert Martin of the division, who did the analysis of 2,143 reports of gunpoint carjackings last year.


In some cases, he said, the carjacker's primary motive is to obtain a car to use in another crime. But in only about 10 percent of the carjackings, police believe, the principal motive was to sell a car intact or for parts.

So, contrary to the popular conception, the most popular cars among carjackers in the city are the very ordinary cars that most people buy: Chevrolets, Fords, Toyotas and Hondas. Cadillac is 10th down on the list; Mercedes-Benz is 11th.

Of course, since there are far fewer Cadillacs and Mercedes on the road than Chevys, your chances statistically of being carjacked might still be a little higher if you have nice wheels.

The division's analysis also found that carjackings in which target cars were forced to the side of the road, while frightening, are not the norm. "The majority are very straightforward," Lieutenant Martin said. "A person approaches with a gun, usually when the car is stopped."

To put it all in context, New York's carjacking total is a lot lower than Los Angeles County's, which has the second-highest level in the United States, 4,671, behind only San Juan, Puerto Rico.

New York City's conclusion about the motives and automotive ** preferences of carjackers mirrors that of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a group supported mostly by the insurance industry to fight car theft. Spokesman Greg Tanski says carjacking has its roots in stagecoach robberies.

"The motive for robbing the stagecoach was not to take the stagecoach," said Mr. Tanski, "but to rob the passengers."