Hot Wheels - Car Theft On The Rise
After a steady decline during the past eight years, automobile thefts in the United States increased by 1.2 percent from 1999-2000 and preliminary figures from 2001 show the trend is continuing, according to recent statistics released by the FBI.
In the first such increase in a decade, there were 13,500 more vehicles stolen in the United States between 1999 and 2000. The increase is causing concern among insurance industry groups that monitor vehicle theft trends.
"The troubling 2000 statistics indicate we need to commit more resources to address this problem and help prevent this increase from becoming a trend," said Robert M. Bryant, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
Indications from the most recent statistics show that auto thefts in 2001 continued to increase. According to preliminary figures compiled by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, motor vehicle thefts increased by 2.6 percent in just the first six months of 2001 compared to the same period during 2000.
Bryant said increases are attributed to a slumping U.S. economy, the reassignment of law enforcement officers from auto-theft task forces, and open international borders that are difficult to monitor for stolen vehicles.
Car thieves are targeting a wide range of vehicles that are stripped of their parts and sold on the black market for large profits. The most popular stolen car was the Toyota Camry, followed by the Honda Accord and Oldsmobile Cutlass.
An NICB study revealed that the popularity of targeted cars varies throughout the country. In Chicago, American cars are more attractive while thieves prefer Japanese vehicles in Los Angeles. Pick-up trucks are preferred in Dallas. In Montgomery, Ala., the most frequently stolen cars are older model General Motors vehicles made between the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Law enforcement and the NICB say stopping auto theft begins with consumers taking basic preventive measures. They recommend motorists always remove keys from the ignition and vehicle, lock doors, close windows, hide valuable items, park in a well-lit area and use anti-theft devices.
"Motorists driving theft-prone vehicles should consider taking additional prevention steps, such as installing a visible deterrent like a steering wheel lock, an alarm, a starter or fuel disabler and a tracking device," Bryant said. "Added protection layers make a vehicle harder to steal."
Insuring a vehicle for theft is covered in the comprehensive part of an auto insurance policy and is a voluntary coverage. The number of insured cars stolen and their costs impact insurance premiums. Despite a decline in auto thefts during the 1990s, the dollar amount of claims has increased because of the higher value of new cars on the road. According to the Insurance Information Institute, stolen vehicles contributed to a financial loss totaling nearly $7.8 billion in 2000. The average value of each stolen vehicle was $6,682. Stolen car values increased 11.4 percent from 1999 to 2000.
This increase in value also has caused an increase in the popularity of anti-theft devices. Many insurance companies, including Alfa, provide discounts for cars with anti-theft devices. In 12 states, law requires insurers to give car owners discounts for such devices.
Gail Harwell, vice president of Alfa's Auto Underwriting, said comprehensive premiums are reduced 10 percent with approved anti-theft devices for private passenger vehicles. She said that an anti-theft device would be a wise investment as theft rates increase nationwide. Police recommend not only audible alarms but also ignition kill devices that, when activated, will prevent the vehicle from starting.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, more vehicle owners are investing in anti-theft devices. During 2001, consumers spent an estimated $227 million for electronic devices to protect their vehicles from theft. This is a significant increase from the $142 million spent in 1995.
Montgomery Police Cpl. Gary Swenson said the trend to take older cars is something unique to the Alabama capital. He said Toyota Camrys and Honda Accords still are frequently stolen, but that most stolen vehicles are older models because they can be taken quickly and easily.
Along with car thefts, auto burglaries also are a problem and add more claims for insurance companies and additional frustration for police. Swenson said car burglaries are a big problem in the Montgomery area. A large trend of auto burglaries can lead to multiple insurance-related claims ranging from broken windows to stolen stereo equipment.
"They'll break a $200 car window for a $10 CD in broad daylight," Swenson said. "Even the smallest things, like a cell phone adapter cord, and they will assume the cell phone is there and break into the car."
He said the only way to prevent car burglaries is to remove valuables from vehicles when parked. Yet all of the tips and precautions can only help prevent auto theft. There is not a magic formula to stop someone from being a victim, and if a thief is determined enough to get a car, he likely will.
"People need to understand that you can't make an automobile completely theft-proof," Swenson said.
Police hope that with a combination of attentive law enforcement and community education, the risks can be lowered and the trend will not continue in 2002.