“Smashing Into Crowds” -- An Analysis of Vehicle Ramming Attacks

You are here

“Smashing Into Crowds” -- An Analysis of Vehicle Ramming Attacks


Vehicle ramming attacks are not new. But since 2010 Jihadists have urged their use. Is this the wave of the future, or a terrorist fad?

To answer this and other questions the authors expanded and updated the database used in their May 2018 MTI Security Perspective titled An Analysis of Vehicle Ramming as a Terrorist Threat to include 184 attacks since January 1, 1970. They also reviewed literature and examined some cases in detail.

This MTI Security Perspective indicates that while not new, vehicle rammings are more frequent and lethal since 2014, although the number of attacks seems to be dropping in 2019. Still it is too early to know if this is because of government countermeasures or because it is a fad that has come and gone. They also found that: (a) the majority of attacks occur in developed countries like the US and Europe; (b) though not more lethal than some other tactics they can be easily carried out by those who cannot get bombs or guns in a target-rich environment that is difficult to protect; (c) while Jihadists (responsible for only 19% of the attacks) have exhorted their use since 2010, it isn’t clear these calls have been successful -- instead the pattern of attacks suggest a kind of wider contagion; (d) attackers plowing vehicles into public gatherings and pedestrianized streets are the most lethal, particularly the attacks are planned and the drivers rent or steal large trucks or vans driven at speed; and finally, (e) government authorities cannot prevent these attacks but can and are doing things to prevent them and mitigate fatalities when they occur.



Brian Michael Jenkins is the director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s Allied Telesis National Transportation Security Center and, since 1997, has directed the Institute’s continuing research on protecting surface transportation against terrorism and other serious forms of crime.


Bruce R. Butterworth is a Senior Transportation Security Researcher at MTI and former Director of Aviation Security Operations at the Federal Aviation Administration. Bruce has taken a leading role in creating MTI’s unique database of attacks on public surface transportation.

November 2019
Safety and security



Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: mineta-institute@sjsu.edu