Vehicle Thefts Fall for 6th Year as Technology Thwarts Criminals

Vehicle thefts dropped in the U.S. in 2009 for the sixth straight year as automakers and car buyers invested in technology to thwart criminals, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said.

Of the 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas reviewed by the industry group, 304 reported a lower rate of thefts than in 2008, the Des Plaines, Illinois-based NICB said in a statement today. Laredo, Texas, had the highest rate of vehicles stolen, bumping Modesto, California, as the most theft-prone. The tally includes cars, light trucks and motorcycles.

“Every year, there are better and more effective kinds of products to make it a lot more difficult to steal cars,” said Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the group, in an interview. “Coming from the manufacturers, they can put theft-prevention products in the vehicles. The higher you move in the vehicle food chain from an entry-level car to a luxury car, you’re going to get all kinds of anti-theft enhancements.”

Insurers including Geico at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Allstate Corp. offer customers discounts for using anti-theft devices. In addition to manufacturer-installed products, consumers can buy protection for their cars from companies like LoJack Corp. and Ravelco, he said.

There were 742 thefts per 100,000 people in Laredo and the surrounding area in 2009, the NICB said. The rate fell 13 percent in the Modesto area to 727 vehicles per 100,000.

New York, San Francisco

Thefts in the New York City region, including northern New Jersey and Long Island, fell to 29,755 in 2009, or 156 thefts per 100,000 people, the group said. That’s a 16 percent drop from 35,509 in 2008. The New York City area had the 223rd highest rate.

State College, Pennsylvania, had the lowest rate, 25 thefts per 100,000 people. Six of the 10 regions with the highest rate of vehicle thefts are in California, the group said. The area including San Francisco and Oakland had the seventh-highest theft rate.

Abuse of methamphetamines may contribute to auto theft, said Sgt. Aaron Tait, a member of the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce, where Modesto is located. Methamphetamine is an addictive stimulant related to amphetamine, with longer lasting and more toxic effects on the central nervous system and has a high potential for abuse and addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Toyota, Honda

Stanislaus County also has a high number of older Civics and Accords made by Honda Motor Co., and Toyota Motor Corp. Camrys, all of which are popular among thieves, Tait said. Models of those cars built more than 15 years ago tend to lack built-in anti-theft devices, he said.

Tait said increased enforcement and education may have contributed to the decline in stolen cars. The NICB advises drivers to remove their keys from the ignition after leaving a car and to park in a well-lit area.

Vehicle thefts nationwide in 2009 may have dropped by as much as 18 percent from 2008, a figure that will be released in the second half of this year, the NICB said.

“If you have your car stolen, that’s a hassle,” Scafidi said. “I don’t care if you’re Bill Gates, or someone else on the other end of the food chain, it’s just a hassle. You have to deal with insurance, police reports. If you had personal things in the car like registration or mail, you have to worry about identity theft.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sapna Maheshwari in New York at Sapnam@bloomberg.net

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