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Exclusive: car thefts reach six-year high

Exclusive: car thefts reach six-year high
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Hugo Griffiths

2018-11-21 00:01

Auto Express investigation reveals sharp spike in car thefts last year; experts blame criminal sophistication and police cuts


More cars were stolen last year than at any point since 2011, with experts blaming falling police numbers and criminals circumventing vehicles’ security systems for the six-year high.

Exclusive figures uncovered by Auto Express show 43,308 cars were reported stolen to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in 2017. That’s the highest number since 2011, and almost 9,000 more than in 2016. Previous research indicated rates of theft were on the rise, but relied on national crime surveys, or comprised data that included all types of vehicle.

How to avoid keyless theft

Rising car crime has been linked to potential vulnerabilities in some security systems and falling police officer numbers, which are down by more than 20,000 since 2010.

RAC Insurance spokesman Simon Williams called our findings “a real cause for concern”, adding that while “manufacturers will stop at nothing to keep their vehicles secure”, it seemed “criminal groups are continuing to find ways around them”.

Year Cars reported stolen
2017 43,308
2016 34,584
2015 30,721
2014 32,538
2013 33,870
2012 38,716
2011 48,999
Source: DVLA/Auto Express

Sales of steering wheel locks doubled in 2017 as drivers supplemented their cars’ built-in security. Some owners of cars with keyless entry, meanwhile, have purchased Faraday pouches, which prevent wireless signals from keys being potentially picked up and ‘cloned’ by crooks.

Williams also said police cuts could be impacting rates of car theft. “We are concerned that the declining number of police officers could be resulting in less investigation of motor crime like this, something that could be solved by forces having greater resources,” he explained.

• Car security: how the industry is staying one step ahead of the criminals

The National Police Chiefs’ Council conceded that “in recent years vehicle theft has started to increase across the country”, but a spokesman said the rate “remains significantly lower than [in] previous years, with fewer offences recorded compared to levels during the nineties. This is against a backdrop of a significant increase in the number of vehicles on the road”.

DVLA data for 2018 shows 32,827 cars were stolen up to 26 October, indicating figures for the year are set to total at least 40,000. While last year’s figures show a significant spike in car thefts, they’re
still some way off the level of crime that blighted the UK in 1993, when an estimated 540,000 vehicles were stolen.

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