When Maria Perreira saw her home number light up on her cell phone display late on a Wednesday night, she immediately knew something was wrong. She was away on a business trip in Botswana and any call at 10pm could only be an emergency or bad news.
It was. Her husband, Paul told her that her 70-year old mother Gina was missing, and had been seen last by their domestic worker at around 4pm, driving off on her own. Not wanting to worry Maria, while she was thousands of kilometres away and helpless to do anything, Paul pulled out all the stops to find his mom-in-law, trying to convince himself that she was out visiting a friend and had simply lost track of time. She was after all mobile with her own car and lived in a separate cottage on their property. To all intents Gina was quite independent, and he ordinarily would not be worried, except Paul knew that Gina would never be out late at night. His fears were confirmed when he found Gina’s handbag, purse and cell phone lying on her bed – this was simply not right. Gina would not leave without these, especially not her phone as the family had a rule to stay in contact with each other and were particularly paranoid about safety and security.
The next 48 hours were harrowing. Maria cut short her business meetings and was on the first flight back to Johannesburg while a full scale search was launched to find Gina. The local security company pulled the video footage of the estate’s entrance and exit gates. Gina was seen driving out at 4pm on Wednesday afternoon, alone and seemingly calm – nothing looked amiss. When asked by the police if Gina’s vehicle was fitted with a tracking device, Maria and Paul both felt the pain of regret. The vehicle was not fitted with one, and right up until that moment, they really did not think it was necessary. The car was old, and they believed had little likelihood of being stolen. Gina also never went anywhere at night, and her trips were only to the local store or to her friends who were all within a 5km radius of their home.
It’s indescribable what goes through your mind when a family member goes missing. The family expected the worst, and thought that Gina had been a victim of a hijacking. They simply had no idea of where to start looking. If only the car had a tracking device in it, they could at least pinpoint an area to start looking for her. Maria felt angry at herself for not seeing the bigger picture of how helpful a tracking device would have been in this situation, and especially given the crime situation in Johannesburg.
Fortunately, this true story has a happier ending than most. The Perreira family received a phone call from a SAPS detective on the Friday afternoon, almost two full days after Gina went missing. She had been found in her car at Zoo Lake by a couple out for an afternoon walk – she was clearly distressed so they called their local police station for assistance. Gina was lost, completely disoriented and not able to recall her name, phone number or address. She was badly dehydrated, but to all ends she was safe and reunited with her family. After a medical examination, the family was advised that she was in the early stages of Dementia.
Had Gina’s vehicle been fitted with a tracking device, her family would have been able to locate her whereabouts a lot faster, and avoided the trauma and danger to Gina’s life that ensued in the two days after her disappearance.
Keeping Track of Your Loved Ones
Gina’s story is just one account of how valuable a vehicle tracking system can be – the considerations go well beyond simply the recovery of your vehicle in the event of theft or hijacking.
Vehicle tracking provides a very plausible solution to keeping track of your loved ones, making sure they are safe, and also monitoring driver behaviour. Today, many tracking units utilise Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that provides a wealth of information at a very affordable price. “Besides being able to pinpoint the exact location of a vehicle in real-time, telematics is also able to provide an accurate recount of the vehicle’s movements and how and when it was driven,” says John Edmeston, Global CFO of Cartrack Holdings Ltd.
“Consider the example of your child’s first trip on their own without having you around to watch over them – often a very frightening experience for a parent. Or consider the aging parent who is no longer as aware of what is going on around them as they used to be, making them soft targets for criminals. Not only is driving safety an important concern, but crime such as hijacking is also never far from your mind. Far from wanting a ‘big brother’ approach, being able to know that your child or any other family member is safe, driving responsibly and can be located quickly if they need help or assistance as in the case of Gina, is a huge comfort, ” says John.
It is always a good idea to have an open and honest discussion with all family members and let them know the reasons behind the installation of a vehicle tracking unit – this is especially important when dealing with teens who will not want you checking up on them or infringing on their privacy. Explain the risks that are involved and if need be, use the statistics to emphasize the danger of criminal elements, speeding and drunk driving.
“A GPS tracking unit offers geo-fencing that sets a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographical area. If you discuss the locations that you expect your family member to be at certain times, then you can set a geo-fence on their travelling location that will alert you if the vehicle was to move outside the perimeter. A notification could be a simple case of your loved one dropping a friend off at their house that is out of the way or it could be something serious like the car being stolen or hijacked. Either way, it remains a very handy feature,” says John.
The pure tracking component of the unit allows for the vehicle to be recovered in the event of it being stolen, but it also provides an online portal that will allow the family to log on from any location to check where the vehicle is. Using the telematics capabilities of a GPS tracking unit will also allow you to monitor the speed at which the vehicle is driven and will even tell you whether the driver is accelerating, braking or cornering hard.
While vehicle tracking was first developed as a means to counter crimes such as vehicle thefts and hijackings, the modern day telematics capabilities now present a holistic safety solution that not only ensure you get your vehicle back if it’s stolen, but also provides information about driving habits and location to ensure that your loved ones, and other road users, are safer on the roads,” concludes John.