Smash and grabs are a common crime in South Africa, particularly in and around busy intersections of major metropolitan areas.
The crime is perpetrated at all times of the day, where unsuspecting motorists are targeted while stationary at traffic lights or stuck in slow moving traffic.
Criminals often work in twos, with one distracting the driver, and the other smashing through a car’s window to grab valuables, such as purses, bags, mobile phones, laptops or even clothing.
Smash and grabs fall under the category of “common” robbery. According to the 2015 crime statistics for South Africa, common robberies increased from 53,505 cases in 2013/14 to 54,927 cases (by 2.7%) in 2014/15.
Common robberies also include cases where criminals grab handbags or items from people walking on the streets.
These types of robberies are the 14th most frequent crimes in South Africa, and should not be confused with “theft out of or from a motor vehicle” – which relates to crimes where car parts, equipment or accessories that are part of a motor vehicle are stolen.
Smash and grabs can happen anywhere in the country, and according to Arrive Alive, the most targeted victims are people driving alone, and are distracted. Women are also more targeted than men, Arrive Alive said.
Over the past year or so, the South African Police Service and a number of community watch groups have identified “hot spots” in big cities, which are prone to these types of crimes.
There are areas where smash and grab activity has been highlighted by the SAPS, eBlockwatch and other local community watch groups in the past 12 to 24 months:
- The William Nicol Drive offramp from the N1 from the Sandton side
- The corner of Old Pretoria Road and 1st Avenue in Alexandra
- New Road offramp in Midrand
- Riviera Road offramp near Killarney Mall
- Intersection of Christiaan de Wet Road and Wilgerood Road in Roodepoort
- All the traffic lights along Louis Botha Avenue between Alexandra and Hillbrow
- Parkwood and Saxonwold (Rosebank precint)
- Upper Houghton and Killarney (Hillbrow precint)
- Between 10th and 11th avenues and 4th and 7th avenues in Parkhurst (Parkview precint)
- Glenhazel, Lombardy East and Sandringham (Sandringham precint)
- Orange Grove and Highlands North (Norwood precint)
- Yeoville, Bellevue and Bellevue East (Yeoville precint)
- Wynberg, Bramley, Marlboro and Kew (Bramley precint)
- The Atterbury Road offramp from the N1 in Menlyn
- Lynnwood Road offramp on the N1
- John Vorster Drive offramp from the N1 in Lyttelton
- Jean Avenue offramp from the R28 in Centurion
- Rigel Avenue offramp from the N1 in Erasmuskloof
- Corner of University Road and Lynnwood Road in Hatfield
- The traffic lights along Walker Street in Sunnyside
- The Lynnwood Road and Hans Strijdom Drive intersection in Garsfontein
- The traffic lights along Nelson Mandela Drive in Sunnyside
- The traffic lights along Simon Vermooten Road in Silverton
- Along Beyers Naude Drive and Paul Kruger Street in Wonderboompoort
- Nelson Mandela Drive, Duncan Street and Walker Street in Sunnyside
- The R55 in Erasmia
- Burnett Street, Hilda Street and the Atterbury Road offramp in the Brooklyn area
- Delfi Avenue and Garsfontein Road in Garsfontein
- N2 off-ramp, near the M41 (going towards Gateway)
- Southern freeway approaching the Victoria Embankment in the Durban city centre
- Intersection of South Coast Road and Grimsby
- N2-Inanda intersection on both sides of the bridge
- Traffic lights near the Engen garage in Riverside Road
- Jakes Gerwel Drive at the R300
- Kromboom Road
- Jan Smuts Road
- Bluegum Road near Bonteheuwel
- Around Siqalo and Kosovo informal settlements in Langa
The City of Cape Town and the SAPS in Durban have said that they have clamped down on the problem areas identified above, reporting a marked decrease in the number of smash and grab crimes reported.
However, motorists should remain vigilant at all times and take precautions to avoid falling victim to the crime.
This can be accomplished through the following safety tips, courtesy of Arrive Alive:
- Lock your doors and close windows while travelling through built up areas and at intersections.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and taking note of any suspicious activity (even looking alert may be enough to dissuade potential criminals).
- Keep the visible driving area clear of anything of value; keep valuables in the boot of your car. Make sure your boot is locked, as criminals sometimes attempt to open it.
- Avoid using the glove box as storage for valuables – it’s easily accessible through a broken window.
- Leave a gap between you and the car in front of you to give you room to escape should anything happen.
- Always be mindful of where you park – high visibility, security and someone to watch over your vehicle (such as car guards) are big deterrents to criminal activity.
“The cautious driver will be able to prevent most incidents of smash-and-grab. If there is nothing to grab there is no reason for the window to be smashed,” Arrive Alive said.