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Situalional prevention

The final set of options considered here are those which can be grouped under the heading of 'situational prevention'. These involve making the offenders' task more difficult by reducing the opportunities for offending.

The risk a vehicle runs of theft depends on four main factors. The first is the locations in which the car is parked—which is returned to. The second is actual or perceived ease of theft. To an extent it is older cars which are considered the easiest targets, though some current newer models get considerable mention too, target-hardening measures being particularly relevant lo these—also returned to. The third factor is the extent to which offenders are familiar with the make of car. To a degree, the risk of theft is determined not by the objective difficulty of stealing it but by whether offenders have had opportunities to practice the techniques that work best for that car. The implication here is that models with high-volume sales should be particularly well-proiected by manu- facturers. The fourth factor is the appeal of the car's image to offenders— which depends to a large extent on the design brief, as well as the way in which it is advertised and marketed by the manufacturer. Assuming that manufacturers continue to produce and market sporty cars which offer exciting, aggressive images there is no doubt that offenders will continue to aspire to steal them. These and other high risk cars will need to be better protected. Car crime was clearly considered by most of the offenders in the sample as glamorous and exciting. How far advertising and marketing has created or reinforced this view is debatable, but the recent trend away from performance/thrills in advertising is a development to be encouraged, particularly considering the possible additional benefits for road safety generally.

Findings from this and other research, especially the Car Theft Index, allows high-risk types and makes of vehicle to be identified. For new models, policy is straightforward—manufacturers must be encouraged to improve security. For older high-risk cars, the potential is less obvious. Owners could be made more aware of their car's vulnerability, though many may be unwilling or unable to afford to invest in additional security equipment.


The major development in lock security has been the introduction of 'dead- locks' for car doors—which cannot be unlocked from inside the car, only from outside with a key. Few of the offenders in the sample had come across these locks; those who had agreed that they would be more difficult, although by no means impossible to overcome—eg, by ripping the entire lock from the door or breaking a window to get in. This of course would give a visible sign that the car had been stolen and many offenders might feel uncomfortable about not being able to open the door to make a quick escape. On balance, deadlocks would receive endorsement from this study, and indeed the Home Office has for some time been pressing manufacturers to introduce them as standard on new cars.



The study showed that alarms can deter. It also indicated that more information is needed on Ihe relative efficiency of types and makes, and the ability or otherwise of offenders to deactivate alarms. Further, the problem of false alarms needs to be addressed—as much to ensure that notice is taken of alarms as to reduce Ihe social cost of noise pollution.


The study did not specifically address the effectiveness of immobilisers, which incapacitate the vehicle by cutting off either the fuel or electrical supply to the engine—preventing the car being driven away. Offenders who mentioned immobilisers did so as a component of 'better type' alarm systems presenting a further impediment to stealing the car. Fully integrated into a car's electronic management system, immobilisers would promise to be very effective. Any customer resistance to immobilisers (eg because they might be thought to present a danger in 'normal' driving situations) could probably be overcome with better design and a careful 'sales pitch'.

Theft from cars

'Pull out' radio/cassette players seemed to offer some protection, though from offenders' accounts owner inertia still leaves many opportunities for theft, particularly from owners who slide the radio out but leave it in the car. Recent attempts to overcome this with modified systems which require only the smaller and more portable control panel to be removed promise to be helpful. It will remain to be seen whether these panels are prone to being lost or broken, and whether they could be replaced by thieves if cheap enough.

Newer radio/cassette players with electronic security coding are another way forward, though the interviewees offered little comment on them. (A code has to be punched in before the radio/cassette can be played and if power to the unit is disrupted, the code no longer works, and has to be reset.) Coded equipment has been shown to be effective in reducing thefts in Australia (NRMA, 1990), though to start with offenders did not know the equipment would be useless without the code. Also, the codes in early models could be erased by leaving the radio/cassette overnight in a freezer. Coded systems need to be clearly marked and backed up with window stickers. It may also be worth encouraging manufacturers to fit audio systems which can be dispersed throughout the car to make them more difficult to steal (Clarke, 1991).

Wheel protection

Results here have shown stylish wheels to be a popular target of theft, and easily removed. Their popularity stems from the existence of a ready market of owners with basic or older model cars keen to upgrade their vehicle. Protection can be afforded by locking wheel nuts, which should be fitted by manufac- turers, and by indelible marking with a vehicle identification number, to allow


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