As seen, nearly a third of offenders cited 'peer influence1 as their main reason for getting involved in car crime, though it was clear that this denoted more of a gradual and subtle 'drifting in' process than direct pressure from peers to conform with offending behaviour:
Because everyone else was doing it . . . you just followed suite. Most of the kids were car thieves . . . it was just something 1 started doing.
I did it to be one of the boys. You see all your friends doing it and they come home and they tell you all about it. And then you slari thinking 'well shall I go and get one?'
A third (33%) of those who said that others were important also stressed the need to impress and be accepted by a group of mates as the most important reason for getting involved in the first place:
All my mates my age were getting into it same as me—only to be up with the boys. In a way you're driving so you think you're a man—it seems you're grown up.
I wouldn't have got involved on my own because I was so insecure— I just wanted to be liked. 1 used to do anything for my mates really, whatever they were doing, whatever they were getting up to, I'd get up to as well. That's what everybody wants when they are young—to be liked. The brainboxes of this world and the kids that get on with their work just aren't liked. I think really deep down there was only one or two of us that was really into taking the car, the rest of us was just doing it because we were just following the crowd, you know like following the leader.
Several people said that it was the companionship of mates which made up for the instability caused by parents breaking up:
I wasn't getting any response from my parents at all because they were going through their own problems . . . the only input I was getting was from my friends. I went along and sort of wanted to see how important I could feel because of what I was doing when I was with them.
Boredom and excitement
Although the search for fun and excitement is, of course, characteristic of young people, Chapter 2 showed that boredom was a major problem for those without money and jobs and that taking cars was often seen by many of the sample as a way of 'curing' boredom. This view is further supported by findings from a recent survey of a thousand 16-25 year olds on 'young people and crime' (NOP, 1991). In the present study, for some it was the prospect of driving that made taking cars so exciting:
It was just for the buzz—the enjoyment of driving. 26
Since I was about 14 1 wanted to get in cars and drive . . . it's not worth going out and nicking a car unless you enjoy driving or something.
For others, the excitement lay in fear:
The first time I was really nervous and shaking like a leaf all the way through but as soon as I'd parked the car up, I went 'Yeah! Great! I can't wait to do it again'.
Some people described taking cars as more than a cure for boredom—as an adventure in its own right, a chance to go away, for instance:
We wouldn't stay around here, we'd go to a seaside town—go on the beach and go swimming.
We'd tour all round Ihe country, go from place to place running them out of petrol, gelling another one and carrying on.
Passion for cars
How far a heightened degree of interest in cars might be a spur to car crime was considered by asking subjects when they had first become interested in cars and whether or not this was linked with the onset of their offending. Just over a third of the sample did not report any particular early interest in cars: their current interest seemed more exclusively linked with criminal activity. But some two-lhirds—across a span of age and car crime experience—said that they had a keen interest in cars from an early age:
I used to go to Brands Hatch with me Dad and I said hello to James Hunt. I've been addicted to cars since I was a right little kid, but I've never had the opportunity to have my own car and that's the only thing I ever really did ever want.
I was driving tractors when I was nine and then one day he asked me to move his car and it was totally different. It was a smoother engine, it went faster and I thought 'Wow, I could like this'. He used to let me take it up and down the lane when I was about 11 and I used to give it hell. In them days I used to have to get behind a wheel and if I couldn't get people to lend me their car, I'd go and nick one.
The vast majority who reported a pre-offending interest in cars rejected the idea that this was particularly implicated in the onset of their criminal behaviour— though there was a hint of a regional difference in that 12 of the 29 Newcastle subjects (41%) felt their previous interest in cars was linked to their eventual offending.
To sum up, first experiences of car crime were overwhelmingly in the presence of other more experienced peers and for many peer influence was very important in their initial involvement. It is difficult to say whether peer influence is more important for car thieves than for other 'apprentice' offenders, though clearly the present sample relied greatly on others in learning