The decline of car crime… Don’t worry, things are getting better. The above graph proves it. It shows the number of thefts of and from vehicles, in England and Wales, for every 1,000 vehicles on the road. Back in the early 1990s, when gangs of carjacking crazies roamed the streets, the figures reached respective highs of 24 and 39. Yet they’ve since declined rapidly, to around 2 and 8 in 2013-14.
…and its causes. I mention this because of a recent Home Office report on the subject. In its words: “Overall, vehicle crime levels are about a fifth of what they were in the mid-1990s, despite eight million more vehicles on the roads.” And the reason? Advances in security technology are a large part of it. The period of the graph covers a number of innovations: the introduction of steering column locks in 1972, of central locking and car alarms in 1985, and so on. But perhaps the most significant is the electronic immobiliser. This gizmo, which makes it much harder for crims to steal cars unless they have the actual key, first appeared on new vehicles in 1992. There are now much easier profits to be made from snatching laptops and mobile phones.
The rise of electronic immobilisers… It has still taken a couple of decades, since the introduction of electronic immobilisers, for vehicle thefts to decline to their current levels. This is partially because it’s taken that long for electronic immobilisers to spread. It was 2000 when half of all vehicles in England and Wales were fitted with them. Now, as the Home Office report puts it, “virtually all vehicles” have them.
…and its limits. Virtually all vehicles. This is a fine thing, but, given that car crime still exists, it also suggests that there are limits on what can be achieved by electronic immobilisers alone. The Home Office warns that, nowadays, “some of the downward pressure on crime may be petering out”. In fact, there may now be some upward pressure: “the latest figures for the year to June 2015 showed a three per cent increase in police-recorded thefts of vehicles in England and Wales, the first rise in two decades.”
What next? Some of this upward pressure might actually come from technology. Thieves are already finding ways to crack the “keyless” locking systems of swisher modern vehicles. The evolution of cars into iPads on wheels, driving along the old Information Superhighway, could create opportunities for hackers too. Without continued vigilance, things might not get better, after all.