of any particular factor that would have influenced a sizeable proportion of offenders out of car crime argues against there being any easy remedies likely to have far-reaching impact.
Deterrent effect of road accidents
Over three-quarters of the sample (78%) said that they or their friends had been involved in accidents and only 10 per cent had no experience of accidents at all (n = 84). For almost a third of the sample (32%), accidents had resulted in serious injury and a further 18 per cent (n = 14) had experienced a friend dying. (For three subjects a friend dying in an accident was the worst part of their car crime career.) The number reporting fatalities seems remarkably high for a sample of 100 but may be explained by the fact that nine of these subjects were from Newcastle and were probably referring to a small number of fatalities known to them all.
Twenty-one per cent of the sample (n = 98) said the worst part of their car crime experience was having had an accident, and for seven it was the risk of having one. But this was often seen as an unavoidable part of the danger of high speed driving, rather than as a deterrent. Only five interviewees said that having an accident had made them desist, though a third admitted to an accident putting them off for a few weeks. Despite a possible degree of bravado in their responses, this indicates a characteristically high degree of motivation and determination (cf. McCullough et al., 1990), if not youthful feelings of immortality, a belief that 'it will never happen to me', and a high degree of confidence (perhaps misplaced) in driving ability:
As they say, if you fall off a horse, just get straight back on—don't be scared, because if you don't get back on you're going to be scared for the rest of your life.
As soon as I was out of hospital, the first thing I did was to steal a car to make sure I could still do it.
Those that claimed not to be deterred by accidents at all were older and more experienced; there was some consistency to these claims, in that they reported a considerable number of serious accidents during their careers.
To round up, then, 21 per cent of this sample had desisted from car crime for a considerable length of time. Thirty-nine per cent reported giving up recently and 40 per cent continued in car crime. Those that had desisted tended to be older. The desisters said they had given up because of increasing responsibility and maturity and these reasons were also given by others when asked why they thought people might give up when older (in line with McCullough et al., 1990). When asked directly why they had given up, less than a quarter cited the threat of prison as their main reason. The experience of serious accidents and fatalities did little to deter the car thief either.
The majority of car thieves in this sample began thieving at age 14 or 15 in the company of other more experienced car thieves. They quickly became com- petent, in terms of technique and speed of execution, after a period of apprenticeship which appears to end at around six to twelve months. Having begun because they were bored, their friends were doing it, and it was obviously thrilling, the possibility of financial reward from theft—either on a casual basis (including (heft from cars) or on a more organised one—quickly became apparent. Consequently, while the thrill remained important, for many making money became a strong factor in continuing. At least one third engaged in what have been termed 'professional' activities; and nearly half of the sample were ramraiders or professionals. Increased age and experience were implicated to some degree in all types of professional crime, particularly with stealing cars to order for a receiver, and ramraiding; but it is worth noting that stripping and ringing cars, and destroying cars for insurance purposes, began as early as age 16.
An unusual degree of 'psychological' reward in terms of thrill, status and self- esteem was highlighted, and may be implicated in the excessive rate of offending. This may be particularly the case in those not dominantly motivated by money-making—often the less experienced car thieves and 'performance drivers'.
Those who had desisted gave greater weight to reasons of increased maturity and responsibility for giving up than the effect of penal sanctions. This, in turn, may be related to the fact that a major factor in beginning and continuing car theft is the need for excitement—rather typical of the age group but likely to weaken with maturity. This was also true of the wider sample when they gave reasons why other people might give up car crime.
A large group of self-professed car crime 'specialists' was identified (53 %) who claimed to focus more or less exclusively on car theft. They were characterised by a particular passion for cars from an early age; longer experience of car theft; and more frequent car thieving expeditions resulting in more numerous thefts.
Several issues have emerged in relation to the progression of the car crime career which have implications for diversion and prevention. These include: the virtually unlimited opportunity for car theft according to subjects' accounts; the short but consistently staled period of 'apprenticeship' and what this might mean for intervention; the apparent opportunities for progression to 'pro- fessional* car theft at a relatively young age; the unusual degree of emotional pay-off from theft and the way in which this may negatively affect the offender's perception of traditional penal sanctions; and the identification of a large group of car crime 'specialists' who, if they are typical of the wider population, may be effectively targeted to prevent a considerable amount of car theft. These and other issues are discussed in Chapter 6.