Prevent Auto Theft: Reduce Opportunity for Criminals

Auto theft has dropped off by nearly half in both frequency and monetary loss within just the past decade thanks in large part to technological advances that make cars increasingly difficult to steal. Still, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that a vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds in the U.S., and thefts occur most in July and August.

Related: Auto Theft Evolves As Cars Get Harder to Steal

So in observance of July as National Vehicle Theft Prevention Month, NHTSA is reiterating some often-told, less-often-heeded tips for reducing your chances of being the victim of auto theft:

  • Take your key with you; never leave it in or on your vehicle.
  • Close and lock all windows and doors when you park.
  • Park in well-lit areas, in a garage, if possible.
  • Never leave valuables inside your vehicle in sight.

To many, these basic tips might seem like common sense — perhaps even an insult to their intelligence. (I mean, seriously, who leaves their keys in the car, anyway?) But research from the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice suggests that despite how tireless and plotting our archetypal image of the masked, trench-coat-clad criminal may be, statistically, they’re really rather lazy.

Routine activity theory, one of several key theories seeking to define and explain criminal behavior, suggests that crime typically occurs amid a perfect storm of factors: a motivated offender, a suitable target and a lack of a capable guardian.

“Criminals choose or find their targets within context of their routine activities, such as traveling to and from work, or other activities such as shopping, and tend not to go too far out of their way to commit crimes,” according to an NIJ statement about routine activity theory.

Likewise, crime opportunity theory indicates that offenders look for a practical target for their crimes. “For example, if a city neighborhood offers no off-street parking, it may be a prime target for vehicle thefts,” NIJ states.

Therefore, the simplest solutions often are the most effective ones. So by following NHTSA’s recommendations, would-be victims significantly reduce their odds of becoming victims.

If your vehicle is stolen, however, NHTSA advises victims to contact the police immediately and file a report; contact your insurance company as soon as possible to file a claim; and notify the police and your insurance company immediately if you locate your vehicle before authorities.