The term 'joyriding' (which first appeared around the turn of the century, originally meaning a pleasure trip in a car or plane), has taken firm hold in relation to car theft—despite criticism that it undermines the misery caused to its victims. From offenders' accounts here it is clear that an element of 'stealing for kicks' underpinned many incidents of theft—indeed being a necessary if not always sufficient condition for it:
The best thing about the whole experience is speeding about.
It gets more exciting once you're in the car—once I'm over 60 I'm off. . . 1 go a bit mad sometimes when I'm driving. I just wouldn't lake things easy when I was in a car, I'd always have to say 'let's go A to B, Ihe fastest way there' . . . the bigger the car the bigger the power trip you get.
It is difficult to estimate figures on either the proportion of incidents committed principally for 'joyriding' purposes, or the proportion of offenders who would have labelled themselves 'joyriders'. An indicator, however, is that over a third (39%) of the sample reported abandoning a car within a few hours, or by Ihe next day (21%). 1
Performance driving—or 'frisking' as it is termed in the North East—consists of driving a car to its limits (and beyond) in terms of road holding, braking, speed and manoeuvrability.2 As well as usual driving skills, use is often made of some motor sport techniques, the most common being to spin the car through an angle of 180 degrees so that it ends up facing and can be driven off in, the opposite direction.3 Doing this can, of course, be highly dangerous, especially if committed on the roads by inexperienced and highly excited drivers. An added dimension, which turns performance driving into display driving is when such manoeuvres are performed in front of spectators—as highlighted by the media in the summer of 1991.
A majority of the sample (58%) said that they enjoyed performance driving, though this was rarely the sole purpose for stealing cars. (A further three offenders said they had engaged in this sort of driving, but not on public roads).
1 A further 7%, incidentally, said they usually 'torched' the car after use, and, while this is not itself evidence that Ihe initial purpose of iheft was joyriding, it does preclude ihe use of the car iiself for profit-making activities (aside from insurance frauds). Tweniy per tent kept the car for a few days, and only 10% for a few weeks, as regular transport. (All those who kept cars for a long period were 17 or older.)
1 The term 'hotting' was coined by the media in the summer of 1991, but was unfamiliar to most of the offenders here.
3 This is achieved if the car is being driven forward by pulling up hard on the handbrake (a 'handbrake turn') which causes the rear of the car to slew round, the car being driven off in the direction from which it came. If the car is travelling in reverse, a technique referred to as a 'reverse wheel flip' is used in order to spin the car through 180 degrees (as this technique is rather less well known it is probably unwise to detail it here).
'Performance drivers' tended to be younger, with 54 per cent being 17 or under (as opposed to 33 per cent of those not into performance driving). In fact, a substantial number of those not interested in performance driving were older, as Table 3.1 shows.
Table 3.1 Experience of 'performance driving', by age ( n = 100)
It was clear, however, that performance driving was a rewarding element of
theft for many: Handbrake turns, reverse turns, screeching the wheels
. . . if I'd a fast
enough car I'd race it about a mile until the bizzies (police) come and you gel chased.
Many of those who said that they wanted to impress their mates often held competitions and races to see who had the most powerful car and to test their driving skills against each other:
If I had a car and someone else had a car, you'd race and see which machine was the best and spin around. It's just showing your friends what you can do with the handbrakes.
The degree to which the 'buzz' and 'thrill' contributes to car theft makes this form of crime distinctive, and this will be returned to when dealing with motives below.
Theft from cars
As careers progressed the number of offenders who stole items from or off cars increased to more than nine in ten respondents (92%), a finding very much in line with other studies. By far the most popular items to be taken were radio/ cassette players (mentioned by 63 of the 97 subjects asked the question). A further 17 per cent said that as well as radio/cassette players they would take anything lying around in the car or boot—coats, bags, tools: