Vehicle theft rises by more than 50% to hit highest level in four years


More than 150,000 motor vehicles were stolen in Great Britain in the year 2018-19, 10,000 more than the year before and a 56% (54,932) increase compared to four years earlier, according to data analysed by RAC Insurance.


Almost all police forces that responded to a Freedom of Information request recorded an increase in the numbers of vehicles stolen in their force areas from 2014-15 and 2018-19, with some stark differences across the country. The largest increases in terms of vehicle numbers were in the Metropolitan Police (up 9,635 to 30,773 thefts, a 46% increase) and West Midlands (up 5,677 to 10,372 thefts, a 121% increase) force areas.

Six forces recorded a more than doubling in the number of vehicles stolen between 2014-15 and 2018-19, with the biggest jumps in Suffolk (up 172% from 347 to 945 thefts), Surrey (up 133% from 661 to 1,543 thefts) and the West Midlands.


Only Lincolnshire, the City of London and Police Scotland recorded a reduction in thefts over this period however, with reductions of 28, 29 and 473 thefts respectively.


Most police forces (32) also recorded a rise in vehicle thefts year-on-year, between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Essex saw the largest rise as well as the largest number of overall vehicles stolen in 2018-19 (up 1,056 to 5,409 thefts, 24% more than in 2017-18) followed by the West Midlands (up 836 to 10,372 thefts, 9% more than 2017-18).

When looking at the biggest percentage increases over this 12 month period, Suffolk witnessed the highest jump with 44% more thefts (945 in 2018-19 compared to 655 a year earlier), followed by Bedfordshire (37% increase, from 1,056 to 1,445 thefts) and North Wales (32% increase, from 464 to 612 thefts).


RAC Insurance spokesperson Simon Williams said: “These figures paint a rather disturbing picture – vehicle thefts are on the rise almost everywhere, and in some parts of the country numbers are rocketing. It’s also not the case that the rises in crime are confined to a few larger urban areas, with many police forces covering more rural areas also seeing big increases.


“While vehicle crime is at far lower levels today than it was in the early 1990s, thanks to improvements in vehicle security, and the number of vehicles licensed to be driven on the UK’s roads is higher than at any point in the past,** it’s still concerning that so many more vehicles are being stolen than just a few years ago. One crumb of comfort from the data however is that the increases might be starting to plateau, and it will be interesting to discover just what effect the coronavirus lockdown has on vehicle thefts when the data becomes available.


“Some of the increases in recent years can be put down to a rise in thefts of vehicles that are easier to steal, such as motorbikes and mopeds that are less likely to have immobilisers. Government data also shows that thieves generally use keys to access vehicles in around half of crimes, which suggests perhaps some drivers could do more to keep their keys safe. And in an estimated fifth of cases (18% in 2018), thieves were able to access cars because one or more cars weren’t locked in the first place.


“Based on these figures, it’s vital drivers take steps to protect themselves and avoid being an easy target. Three of the biggest factors that determine whether a car is stolen or not come down to how it’s secured, where it’s kept and the time of day. Criminals appear to prefer stealing vehicles at night, with those parked at owners’ homes, presumably where there is easier access to a key, also being favoured.


“While organised criminal gangs are responsible for a large proportion of crime, thieves will also be opportunistic in nature so the more a driver can do to make their car a less likely target the better. It’s also critical motorists buy quality motor insurance policies that will cover them in case the worst happens. A strong, comprehensive policy can go a long way towards giving peace of mind in the event a vehicle is stolen.”

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