After ensuring that the interviewee was correctly informed of the aggravated offence and the penalties available the question was asked 'would it put you off at all?'. Over half considered that the new law would (32%) or might (23%) put them off offending. These figures, of course, relate only to how car offenders said they viewed the possible deterrent effect of the new law—which might have been invested with an element of 'fear of the unknown', due to ils novelty and the wide publicity it was attracting at the time. Further research is needed, afler the law has been in force for a reasonable period of time, to provide a more reliable assessment.
Six thought that the new law would make offenders who knew of I he increased penalties more determined to escape apprehension and more likely to drive dangerously:
All it means right if you were sitting behind the steering wheel and you've got a blue light behind you and you're looking at five years right nothing in front of you is going to stop you, if you hit kids you know whai 1 mean. You want to get away. It might stop most of the joyriders, but I would just pinch a fast one.
Naw, like cos when I pinch cars—100 mph through the streets but I'm always in control.
People could drive a lot madder because they don't want to get caught.
Yes, because you get four or five years just for nicking a car and having a laugh it's a bit steep. But you'll always get people wanting to beat the system, so for them it's going to be more of a challenge—they're going to make sure they don't get caught.
The view was expressed by one interviewee that the increased penalties could even enhance the status of the offence for some people:
It's like grievous bodily harm is a serious offence and you can be seriously penalised for it. But people still do it, nevertheless, because a lot of people like to be able to say to somebody—'Yeah I got done for GBH'.
Most of the sample, however, thought that the new law would stop some offenders:
Well I haven't pinched a car for a few months now but I've been in them. I would say out of 10 nearly four have stopped. The other six they just keep on doing it.
A lot of the lads I've talked to in jail said they're not pinching cars when the new law comes in . . . whether it was jail talk 'cos they were locked up or w h a t . . . I mean I suppose it'll knock joyriding on the head a lot. I mean they realise they're gonna get five years maximum.
Or at least make them more cautious:
There're a lot more cautious. They're going out of their way to be careful like, not doing anything dodgy until they are right out of the way, up on the moors or something.
Most offenders were in little doubt that stealing cars was morally wrong, though nearly three-quarters nonetheless felt that it was not a particularly serious form of offending. There was evidence that some offenders were responsive lo the recent attention paid to car theft and now felt that the offence wus considered more serious than il had once been. Most offenders claimed to be fairly immune to the risks of detection—though some 'macho' effect here cannot be discounted. Three-quarters put thoughts of being caught out of their mind, and nine out of ten were not deterred by the risk of apprehension anyway. Younger offenders were least likely to think about what punishment they might attract if caught. Contrasted with current sentencing practice, the chance of a custodial sentence was grossly overestimated, particularly by the youngest age group. For instance, 44 per cent of the 14-16 year old age group thought they would be sentenced to custody if caught, whereas of this age group sentenced in 1990, only two per cent were dealt with in this way.
Some measures were said to be of little deterrent value. None of those who expected a caution, conditional discharge, probation or community service order reported being deterred.
A quarter of those who expected a fine or driving ban saw this as a deterrent, though it is not possible to determine which was the greater threat. Half of those who expected custody felt similarly, though the idea of curtailment of liberty may be more potent than the actuality: only one of the fourteen offenders who had experienced custody was prepared to admit it had stopped him re- offending.
Over half the sample considered that the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking law would (32%) or might (23%) put them off taking cars. A minority (six) pointed to the danger of the new law making offenders drive more recklessly to avoid being caught, a problem already being experienced with police chases.