Car Crime: How Safe Are You? - Tonight

All it takes to steal a modern car is a signal booster by your keys and your car - the criminals don't even need to see your keys. Credit: ITV / Tonight

Rates of car theft are the highest they’ve been in years, and new technology makes it all too easy for criminals to help themselves to people’s cars. ITV Tonight is asking should the manufacturers be doing more, why aren't the police catching more criminals, and what can the public do to keep their car safe?

Relay Theft

After years of falling crime rates, car theft is on the rise again with around an extra 57,000 crimes between 2015 and 2017. One reason for this, is the rise in keyless or relay theft.

ITV Tonight visits Thatcham Research Centre to understand how relay theft works. Thatcham Research Centre is an engineering facility that tests all makes of cars for their safety and security.

‘So, essentially there is two bits of kit, one goes by the key one goes by the car. The bit by the key boosts the signal from the key to the car and makes the car think the key is much closer, so it will open and you can get in, start the car, and off you drive.’

Richard Billyeald, Chief Technical Officer, Thatcham Research Centre

What you can do?

If you are concerned about your car’s security, there are simple steps you can take to keep your car safe.

Thatcham Research Centre say pay a visit to your car dealer to see if there might be a software update on your key fob.

Curiously, two other solutions exist - which rely on very old technology.Crime Reduction Manager Mark Silvester, of West Midlands Police talks us through what we can do to keep our cars safe.

He recommends a faraday bag, which is a bag made of flexible metal fabric and can block electromagnetic fields and stop your key ‘talking’ to thecar. Mark also recommends a steering wheel lock, which works by locking the steering wheel so the car cannot be driven. Both devices have been around for over 100 years old.

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The Manufacturers: Should They Be Doing More?

Relay theft is affecting keyless cars across the industry, The ADAC, the German equivalent of the AA have tested hundreds of brands of keyless cars since 2015, and they’ve managed to break into the vast majority of them using relay technology.

David Jamieson is the crime commissioner for the West Midlands - which has one of the worst car theft problems in the UK. Earlier this year, he held a conference with the motor manufacturers to ask them what they’re doing about the problem.

Credit: ITV / Tonight

‘I think that is an extraordinary finding that all these cars are failing this relay theft test, we know that, the crooks know that the manufactures know it, the question is why are they selling cars, between twenty and eighty thousand pounds, where somebody can just walk up with a relay device against the house at two o’clock in the morning and be off with the car in thirty seconds.’

PCC David Jamieson, West Midlands Police

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders told Tonight:

“The industry takes vehicle crime extremely seriously and works closely with government, insurers and police forces nationwide to share intelligence and develop new ways to try to stay one step ahead of the criminals. At the same time, manufacturers are investing billions in ever more sophisticated security features and software updates on an ongoing basis.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive
Credit: ITV / Tonight

The Police: Why Aren't They Catching More Criminals?

Statistics suggest this pressure on the police is affecting how many car thieves are caught. The Press Association looked at Home Office data and found with three quarters of all car thefts - cases were closed with no suspect identified.

Professor Marian Fitzgerald points out car theft is not being investigated properly because according to sentencing information from the Office of National Statistics, such crimes are a low priority.

‘The list goes from homicide obviously and that is scored at about 8,000 and then the list goes right down to 5. And in that group of offences which go from 5 up to 100, you've got most of the offences that the public is likely to experience including car crime. The only car crime that goes above 100 in this scoring system is aggravated vehicle theft, that's where violence is used to secure the car. Everything else scores on the lowest possible scoring system that the police are supposed to be responding to and [they are] not getting looked at.’

Professor Marian Fitzgerald, Criminologist, University of Kent

Greater Manchester Police told us that:

“with a reduction of almost a quarter of the force over the past few years, and more serious and complex crimes, we are making tough decisions on a daily basis about how we prioritise our resources. We have to focus on the crimes that represent the greatest threat, harm and risk to people in our communities.”

Greater Manchester Police