California Leads in Vehicle Theft

California is the nation’s leader in technology and entertainment and also in vehicle theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said the Modesto, Calif., Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) had the highest per capita rate for vehicle thefts in the nation in 2007, and four of the top five metros for auto theft were in California. Only Las Vegas at No. 2 broke the chokehold California cities had on the car-theft-leader quintet.

While the news weren’t great for Californians who own cars, there were some positives. Preliminary 2007 crime data released by the FBI indicated that not only is 2007 on track to be the fourth consecutive year of declining vehicle thefts, but also, if the preliminary figure of a 7.4 percent drop in car theft holds, it will be the largest single year percent drop in thefts since 1999. The overall reduction in vehicle thefts nationally since 2000 is expected to stand at 11 percent.  

Despite the good news, there is no reason for vehicle owners or law enforcement to relax their vigilance. While the report shows overall great news, there is also room for concern, according to NICB President and Chief Executive Officer Robert M. Bryant.  

“Success against vehicle theft can be fleeting without an ongoing and adaptive program that couples the best in theft prevention/recovery technology with law enforcement operations,” he said. “We must not become complacent in the wake of success. Bait cars, license plate readers and owner-applied theft deterrence and recovery systems have delivered outstanding results. In the coming years, technological advances may well defeat vehicle theft as a major crime problem in the United States, but until then, we must continue using everything at our disposal to keep achieving the kinds of results that we have had over the last four years.”

NICB recommends the following actions under its “layered approach” to vehicle theft protection that includes common sense, a warning device, an immobilizing device and a tracking device. An unlocked vehicle with a key in the ignition is an open invitation to any thief, regardless of which antitheft device you use, so the common sense approach is to secure your vehicle even if parking for brief periods. You should always remove your keys from the ignition, lock your doors, close your windows and park in a well-lit area.

The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device that alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular second layer devices include audible alarms, steering column collars, steering wheel and brake pedal locks, brake locks and wheel locks. Theft deterrent decals, identification markers in or on vehicle, VIN etching and microdot marking make thieves think twice about stealing your vehicle.

The third layer of protection is a device that prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated.  

The final layer of protection is a tracking device that emits a signal to the police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ “telematics,” which combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner, and the vehicle can be tracked via computer.