New technology and carelessness may be driving factors behind a nationwide rise in motor vehicle thefts.

Nationwide, more vehicles were stolen in 2017 than in any single year since 2009.

The number of vehicle thefts reported to the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office rose from 56 in 2016 to 99 in 2017, a whopping 76% increased. They dropped to 82 in 2018, but 77 have been reported so far in 2019 with over three months still left in the year.

The proliferation of vehicles with push-start buttons that can be activated if the key fob is inside made it easier than ever to steal a car. Keyless ignition was standard equipment on 62% of vehicles sold in 2018, up from 11% in 2008.

As for carelessness, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that the number of motor vehicles stolen nationwide because drivers left keys or fobs in them rose by 56% from 2015 to 2018. The NICB calls these “complacency thefts,” and said they accounted for nearly 9% of all vehicle thefts in 2016 and 10% in 2017, compared to 6.2% of all vehicle thefts in 2013 and 6.7% in 2014.

“Complacency thefts” could also be an identifier for thefts from unlocked vehicles.

Investigator Chris Handy of the Wilkesboro Police Department said it’s not uncommon for individuals to be seen walking around retail parking lots in Wilkesboro looking for unlocked vehicles with contents waiting to be taken. Unlocked vehicles are the most likely targets because they’re the easiest.

Capt. Brandon Absher of the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office said probably 99% of legitimate motor vehicle theft cases investigated by that agency result from keys or fobs being left inside them.

(Legitimate is an important qualifier because some vehicle thefts are reported just before or after the vehicles in question are found wrecked and abandoned, which often indicates situations other than theft.)

The NICB reported that warming and cooling vehicles seems to play significant factor in thefts of vehicles with the keys inside since most occur in winter and fall. More thefts occur in December and January than any other time of year.

Recent lists of the top 10 vehicles stolen generally include these (not in any particular order): Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford F-150 pickup, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Silverado pickup, Nissan Altima, Dodge/Ram pickup and GMC Sierra pickup.

NICB advises drivers to:

  • lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or fobs;
  • do not leave a garage door opener in the vehicle;
  • take a picture of the vehicle registration on your cell phone and
  • don’t leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle;
  • never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or for other reasons. It only takes a moment for a thief to jump inside and drive off.

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