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Technology Helps To Keep Rate Of Car Thefts Down


Remember The Club?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Car thieves are out there prepared to steal your car. Now, more than ever, you need The Club, antitheft device.

GREENE: That was back in the 1990s. You know, you locked it onto your steering wheel to keep your car from being stolen. Well, you don't see it around as much these days, and there's a reason for that.

Car theft is on the decline in the United States in a big way. And to find out why this is happening, we turn to Roger Morris. He's vice president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a trade agency that represents the car insurance industry. Mr. Morris, welcome to the program.

ROGER MORRIS: Good morning. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. So tell me about this. You have a new report out showing that car thefts are really dramatically down. What exactly did you to find?

MORRIS: Well, every year we put out a hot wheels report listing the top 10 most stolen vehicles in the country. We've been doing this for a lot of years. And the latest one based on the 2013 data that's out there from the National Crime Information Center shows that once again, the older model Hondas - Accords and Civics - are the most stolen vehicles in the country. But when you get past the late 1990 models and into the newer models, those drop dramatically.

So the technology that has been put in place since the late 90s has really had a major impact on car thefts. Thefts reached their peak back in 1991 at 1.6 million thefts a year in this country. And we think that when the final figures are ran for 2013 from the FBI, that number may drop below 700,000.

GREENE: Well, before I get to sort of the technology broadly, what is it about Hondas that seems so tantalizing for thieves?

MORRIS: Well, first of all, the Hondas back in the 90s were very popular, very well made. And they are very much valued by car thieves for their parts and their engines. However, they were made - the 1997 model was the first model that came out with a key code in it, which was really the major first step in antitheft technology.

So when you look at the 1996 model Accord, which was the most stolen model in the country last year, there were 8,166 thefts of those models. Compare that to a 2013 Accord with the new technology on it. Last year, there were only 276 of those stolen.

GREENE: And what exactly is this technology that came in in the late 90s the made cars much harder to steal?

MORRIS: Well, they put a code in the key that matches up with the ignition that says, you know, unless this key is in this ignition, it won't start. So it basically stopped the hot wiring and, you know, the joy riding, so to speak.

GREENE: Please don't jump to any conclusions about me when I ask you this - but how do you steal a car these days with this new technology?

MORRIS: A lot of the thefts today are, unfortunately, the drivers leaving their car unlocked with the keys somewhere in the car. You'd be surprised how many people will stop at a parking lot or a convenience store or something, jump out, leave the car running...

GREENE: I'm just grabbing coffee and a newspaper. I'll be back to my car in three minutes.

MORRIS: Exactly.

GREENE: Let me just ask you about one thing I noticed in your statistics here. It seems like a large number of the communities that are still seeing a lot of car thefts are in the state of California. Why is that?

MORRIS: California has been having five or six or seven of the top spots for the last several years. And this year, they had 9 of the top 10 hot spots in the country. Basically, it's because California's huge. There's a lot of cars out there. I-5, Interstate 5, is kind of a corridor for car thieves. They steal them and head down, and a lot of them go across the border into Mexico.

GREENE: Roger Morris is vice president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Thanks so much for talking to us.

MORRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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