As we commemorate Auto Theft Awareness Month this March we are taking a look at motor vehicle theft trends across the United States and throughout Arizona. Every 45 seconds, a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States. In 2015, there were an estimated 707,758 motor vehicle thefts across the nation according the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. More than $4.9 billion was lost nationwide to motor vehicle thefts in 2015.

There is good news for Arizona.

The state now ranks ninth in the nation for motor vehicle theft with 16,785 thefts in 2015 according to the FBI’s reporting. Arizona has seen a decline in thefts since the early 2000’s where the state was consistently ranked as one of the top three for motor vehicle thefts.

Arizona still has its challenges as an international boarder state and also it’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the international shipping ports of California. A majority of motor vehicle thefts occur in the evening hours or later when the unsuspecting owner has settled in for the night and will not notice their vehicle missing until many hours later when the vehicle is long gone.

Arizona law enforcement and government officials and agencies have been hard at work to prevent motor vehicle thefts.

In 1992, the Arizona State Legislature created the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority (AATA) to investigate, analyze and address the problem. The AATA is entirely funded by the insurance industry with $1 from each Arizona auto insurance annual premium.

The AATA embraces a multi-faceted approach to address the problem of vehicle theft. It includes the following integrated programs:

  • Public Awareness and Community Education
  • Law Enforcement Activities
  • Vertical Prosecution

Bait Car Program

In 2003, the AATA began funding grants to statewide law enforcement agencies to develop a Bait Vehicle Program with the intent to reduce Arizona’s vehicle theft rate.

Bait cars are equipped with technology using computers, satellites and tracking devices, which notify police when the vehicle has been entered into or moved so they can catch thieves in the act.

The Watch Your Car Program

The Watch Your Car decal program is a free, voluntary program whereby vehicle owners enroll their vehicles with the AATA. The vehicle is then entered into the Motor Vehicle Department database and participants receive decals for their front and rear windows. By displaying the decals, vehicle owners convey to law enforcement officials that their vehicle is not usually in use between the hours of 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, when the majority of auto thefts occur. If a police officer witnesses the vehicle in operation between these hours, they have the right to stop the vehicle and verify it is being legally operated by the rightful owner.

In addition, by enrolling in the Watch Your Car Program, vehicle owners authorize law enforcement officials to stop their vehicle at any time within one mile of the border, if there is a suspicion that the vehicle is being illegally operated.


The “Layered Approach” To Protect Your Vehicle

Professional thieves can steal any car, but an owner’s vigilance and preparation can make the likelihood of his/her vehicle being stolen less likely. The National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends the following:

Layer #1 – Common Sense

  • Lock your car – half of all vehicles stolen are left unlocked.
  • Take your keys – nearly 20% of all vehicles stolen have the keys in them.
  • Park in well-lit areas – car thefts occur at night more than half the time.
  • Park in attended lots – car thieves do not like witnesses.
  • Do not leave your vehicle running and unattended.
  • Completely close your car windows.
  • Do not leave valuables in plain view.
  • Do not hide a spare set of keys in the car – the pros know where to look.
  • Park with your wheels turned toward the curb.
  • Always use your emergency brake when parking.
  • If you have a garage, use it – when you do, lock both the vehicle and the garage door.

Layer #2 — Warning Device
The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular second layer devices include:

  • Audible alarms
  • Steering wheel locks
  • Steering column locks
  • Brake locks
  • Tire locks
  • Watch Your Car decals
  • Identification markers in or on vehicle
  • Protective Window Laminate
  • Microdots applied to various surfaces on vehicle, which are imprinted with identification information
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) etching on vehicle windows

Layer #3 — Immobilizing Device
This third layer of protection is a device which prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle.

Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated.

Popular third layer devices include:

  • Smart keys
  • High security locks & keys
  • Fuse cut-offs
  • Kill switches
  • Starter, ignition and fuel disablers

Layer #4 — Tracking Device
The final layer of protection is a tracking device which emits a signal to a police or monitoring station when the vehicle is reported stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles.

Passive and Active Anti-Theft Systems

Passive and active anti-theft devices are the two options available when considering an anti-theft system. Passive devices automatically arm themselves when the vehicle is turned off, the ignition key removed, or a door is shut. No additional action is required. Active devices require some independent physical action before they are set, such as pushing a button, or placing a “lock” over a vehicle component part. This physical action must be repeated every time the anti-theft device is set or it will not function.


If Your Vehicle Is Stolen

The NICB and the AATA offer the following tips if your vehicle is stolen:

  • Notify law enforcement immediately.  Speed is essential in recovering stolen cars; any delay in reporting only helps the thieves.  Be prepared to provide the vehicle’s make, model, color, license plate number, and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).
  • Keep a photocopy of your vehicle registration and insurance card in your wallet or at home.  This will enable you to provide information quickly to law enforcement and your insurance claims agent.
  • Make your vehicle easier to identify.  One way is to write your initials on an index card and drop it in the window slot, or carefully engrave your initials inside the trunk, hood, or even the dashboard near the VIN number.
  • Etch the VIN number on all window glass of the vehicle.
  • Review your insurance policy annually.  Don’t wait until after your vehicle is stolen to find out you don’t have the coverage you think you have.  Owners are advised to review their auto insurance policies once a year.
  • Exercise caution if you see someone tampering with your car.  Call 911 as quickly as possible.
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