Vehicle Thefts at 20-Year Low

Nov 03, 2009

According to a study by USA Today, reported vehicle thefts have fallen to a 20-year low even though the number of vehicles on the road has doubled.  The major reasons: automakers installing sophisticated anti-theft devices and police targeting organized car-theft rings.


The FBI data provided by the study shows that approximately 956,846 vehicles were stolen in 2008.  That’s less than half of the figure for 1991, when 1.66 million vehicles were stolen equaling 659 thefts for every 100,000 people.  And today there are more than 245 million vehicles on the road, up from just 122 million in 1989.


“It’s a much tougher job to be a car thief today,” says Russ Rader, spokesman for Highway Loss Data Institute, a research group funded by auto insurers that analyzes data from insurance claims. “The technology in new vehicles makes it much harder to make off with a car.”


One of the most prevalent anti-theft technologies currently in use is the ignition immobilizer, an electronic device that prevents the engine from starting without the vehicle owner’s key.  Alarm systems and GPS tracking devices have become more widely used as well. GPS tracking technology “didn’t exist 20 years ago,” says Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “There was a time when consumers rarely chose alarm systems as an option. Over time, they’ve become more and more standard.”


In 1989, fewer than 5% of new cars included an ignition immobilizer as part of the standard package, the Highway Loss Data Institute research shows. Now 86% of new cars are built with the device.


The chances of having a car on the road stolen are about 1/3 of what they were in 1989. Yet insurance rates have held steady because cars cost more, says Steve Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group.


Photo courtesy of wonderferret under the Creative Commons License.