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Vehicle Theft Rates Rising Rapidly: Keys Left in Cars

Drivers are leaving their keys in their vehicles more often, and those vehicles are being stolen. Earlier this week, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that the number of vehicles that were stolen because drivers left their keys or fobs in their vehicles rose by 56% over a three-year period. The

Vehicle Theft Rates Rising Rapidly: Keys Left in Cars -- Altizer Law PC

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number has increased by 88 percent in the last five years.

Between 2015 and 2018, thefts of vehicles with keys or fobs inside accounted for 229,339 car thefts. This is 209 vehicle thefts every day. As staggering as the number of such vehicle thefts reported is the knowledge that many owners of stolen vehicles do not report that their keys (or fobs) were in the vehicles. Many police reports and insurance claims do not ask in the keys were left in the vehicle.

It is surprising that the number of vehicle thefts overall has declined while the number of thefts with keys left in the car has risen sharply during the last 15 years. For example, in 2016 57,726 more vehicles were stolen than in 2015. The report says that in that same year 69,351 vehicles were stolen with keys or fobs left inside.

These “complacency thefts” (NICB’s term) accounted for almost 9 percent of all car thefts in 2016. Just one year later they accounted for 10 percent of all thefts. [Compare with 6.2 percent in 2013 and 6.7% in 2014. The NCIB also reports that 5 percent of the thefts with keys or fobs left in the vehicle were not recovered.

Most of us have been told again and again, “don’t leave your keys in the car.” One major danger in some parts of the country 30 years ago was common: to use one key to start a car, then lock the doors and use a second key to re-enter the car when it was deemed warm enough (or cool enough). Some people habitually leave car keys behind the driver’s side sun visor, where they are accessible to other family members.

One recent technological advance addressed the desire to start a vehicle and allow time for the interior temperature to adjust before entering the vehicle. These key fobs contained chips that could communicate with the starters. Keyless ignition made it possible to start a vehicle and leave it undrivable until the key was inserted into the starter.

Tesla is using a new keyless entry and ignition system, as is Toyota (for example). These key fobs allow the driver to start the car and drive it without touching a key, as long as the key or the fob are in the vehicle. It is certainly convenient to leave the keys in your pocket or purse and start the vehicle by pressing a button on the steering wheel.

There is, however, a flip side to this convenience. It is once again possible to leave your keys or key fob inside the vehicle (with or without realizing it) and walk away from a vulnerable vehicle. Anyone who is able to gain entry into the vehicle can start and drive it. We have come full circle and need to be reminded again, “don’t leave your keys in the car!”

Nobody wants to have their vehicle stolen. Few of us relish the idea of the time and effort involved in recovering the vehicle. Sometimes those vehicles are wrecked before they are located. One way to protect your vehicle is to stop leaving your keys/fobs inside the vehicle.