In Just 22 Years, Car Theft Rates Have Plunged by 58 Percent

Security technologies help thwart crime.

From 1960 to 1991, car thefts increased five-fold, peaking at 1,661,738 cars stolen in 1991. Since then, theft rates have been falling, coming in at 699,594 units reported stolen in 2013 according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Importantly, the 221 theft rate per 100,000 people is approaching 1960’s rate of 182 vehicles per 100,000 people.

Over the past 22 years, rates dropped sharply until 2000 before rising slightly for several years. The steady decline resumed in 2004 and continued through 2011. Theft rates rose slightly in 2012 before falling again in 2013.

Improved Law Enforcement Efforts

A number of factors have contributed to the steady decrease in car thefts. The NICB points to improved law enforcement efforts, including specialized auto theft investigative units created by local law enforcement agencies. Here, once a theft occurred, police would work quickly to recover the vehicle and, hopefully, arrest the thief with prosecutors gaining a conviction.

NICBTechnology has made it more difficult for thieves to steal cars too. Years ago, people would install a steering wheel lock bar and hope that thieves wouldn’t smash a window, break the bar and drive off with the car.

In 1986, LoJack Corporation was formed, offering a stolen vehicle recovery system that was added after vehicle purchase. In this example, the company installs a small, silent radio transceiver in cars and shares its database with the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), used by law enforcement agencies across the country. LoJack claims a 90 percent recovery rate for member vehicles.

Automakers and Aftermarket Suppliers

Today, anti-theft technologies are often included in the manufacturing process with security systems, smart keys and other advanced technologies installed. Together, factory and aftermarket security systems have helped drive down theft rates to levels not seen in 50 years.

The NICB notes that hot-wiring a car is no longer an option for thieves. Thus, they will turn to other, more sophisticated methods to steal a car. They can do this by illegally acquiring keys, by tricking locksmiths and dealerships into believing that they are the car’s owner. This problem can be eliminated if customers are required to show their title information or vehicle registration card before keys are issued.

Other theft methods include stealing rental cars. Under this scenario a customer rents a car and keeps it. Or, he may place a GPS tracker in the car and once it has been rented out again, follow the car to its destination and steal it. Other thievery methods include switching vehicle identification numbers (VINs) with an identical make and model car. Also, some thieves create fake financial histories, then visit a dealer, secure financing, obtain a vehicle and then ship it to a foreign port of call where it is resold.

Avoid Theft

Despite the huge drop in car thefts, vehicle owners should continue to follow sound practices to avoid victimization. The NICB identifies several “layers of protection” that car owners should take to avoid theft. These include: locking your doors, removing the key from the ignition, closing windows and parking in well-lit areas. Further, a visible or audible device can thwart thieves as can the installation of a vehicle immobilizer and a tracking system.

Your new vehicle may already have the security devices in place, but they won’t do you any good if they’re not activated. Some cars, such as certain GM OnStar-equipped models, also come with a vehicle tracking system. With this, stolen vehicle slowdown can be activated with police assistance notes the New York Times.

About the NICB

The NICB is a not-for-profit organization with a 100-year heritage formed in 1992 following the merger of the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB) and the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute (ICPI). The organization claims membership from approximately 1,100 property and casualty and insurance companies, vehicle finance companies, auto auctions, vehicle rental companies and other entities and partners.

Chart copyright the NICB.


See AlsoSteal This Car — With the Keys in the Ignition!

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

3 thoughts on “In Just 22 Years, Car Theft Rates Have Plunged by 58 Percent

Leave a Reply