Fleet News

Security: fighting vehicle crime is a never-ending battle

THIEVES. If you operate vans, they are never far away. If they haven't got their eyes on your load, they've got a plan to steal your van. Keeping them at bay is a constant battle of wills and ingenuity between van operator and criminal.

But what are latest developments in this ongoing war of light commercial vehicle crime? And what are the latest innovations in van security designed to nullify them? Howard Barron, chief executive of the Vehicle Systems Installation Board, the body representing aftermarket vehicle security companies, confirms that theft of and from commercial vehicles is a continuing headache for owners, fleet operators and insurers.

He said: 'Types of crime involving these vehicles now vary and range from casual smash and grab to more organised theft by teams. However, there are certainly emerging trends. For example, hijacking and theft of keys are on the increase.'

With light commercial vehicle crime remaining commonplace, van operators can at least now expect to buy a vehicle knowing that the manufacturer has had security high on the agenda from the moment the vehicle was first envisaged.

The latest generation Ford Transit is a case in point, with standard security features like lock-in-latch keys, meaning that thieves cannot access a cable or rod to release a door, and a key-locking bonnet to protect from thieves who will even take an engine. Steve Bruford, manager of body engineering on the Transit project, explained: 'Even if you took the door skin off the new Transit, a thief would still have a difficult time getting in. Our overall goal was to deliver a security system in keeping with Transit's reputation, something that we know our customers have come to demand and expect.'

However, despite this high level of manufacturer commitment and initiative, most van operators still have to consider fitting further features before a vehicle can take its place on their fleet.

Tony Beck, sales director at racking specialists The Van Liners, says that nine out of 10 vehicles that come through their workshops have some form of security added. He said: 'People are definitely more security minded with their vans than even just a couple of years ago. Usually, they fit items like window grilles and security cages.'

Phil Read of Bri-Stor, which operates in the same market sector, agreed: 'A lot of our customers now want to build security into their basic fitment. They have a much better idea of what they want than in the past. Many, for example, will upgrade the manufacturer's locks as a matter of course if they don't feel they are good enough.'

In fact, locks are a basic area where vans can be made more secure very cost-effectively. Expresslock has been specialising in this area for six years but has seen rapid growth in interest in the last year. Managing director Peter Adcock said: 'The good thing about locks is that a van operator can spend £100 on a vehicle and bring about a real improvement in its security, making it much harder for thieves. This is an area where we have seen ongoing growth recently.

'Of course, it is possible to spend more on the vehicle's locking system and make things even tougher. One of our latest products is an automatic locking module for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other vans. It monitors any of the vehicle's doors and automatically locks them if they have been left unlocked after a pre-set time. The van simply cannot be left unlocked.'

While advances have been made in the lock market, other parts of the aftermarket security sector have also been undergoing changes. For example, while the immobiliser market has rapidly declined because manufacturers have started fitting Thatcham Category 2 items as standard, the alarm market has continued to grow.

Steve Hodson, of commercial vehicle security specialist Maple Fleet Technology, said: 'It used to be that we would always fit alarms and immobilisers together. Now, because every van has a standard immobiliser, the van operator focuses more on the alarm and is learning much more about exactly what they want to buy.

'For example, customers are now becoming sophisticated enough that they know good alarms have magnetic read switches on the doors rather than pin switches.' Developments are also taking place that are removing some of the traditional drawbacks from alarm systems, such as key fobs failing.

Hodson continued: 'This is a common problem with vans. Because the vehicle is being opened and closed all the time when drops are made, key fob battery life can be short. Also, estimates show that there are about 500,000 cases of what we call 'RF lock out' every year when the alarm signal is weaker than another nearby RF source, meaning you can't use the key fob to get back into the vehicle. We have overcome this with alarms that instead use a transponder key on the outside of the vehicle.'

Another area of van security that seems to be showing rapid growth is tracking systems. Tracker reports that almost 35,000 LCVs in the UK now use its system and Nigel Porter, technical director at telematics specialist Orchid, believes that companies selling tracking systems are benefiting from a change in marketing.

He said: 'We have been in this market since 1997 and, like others, we initially concentrated on the truck market because the high value of the loads seemed to make the product more viable. But margins at that end of the commercial vehicle scale remain very slim while the LCV market has changed. There are now larger van fleets around, like service industries and home delivery companies. These benefit from our products because they carry high value loads and are vulnerable because of their multi-drop use. This is the area where we have seen most growth recently.'

Backing up his comments, Orchid has recently closed deals with Chubb Security Systems for its fleet of Volkswagen LT35 vans and Commercial Groundcare for its fleet of Ford Transits.

Porter added: 'For many of our LCV fleets, the security value of telematics is only a part of the reason for buying. What they have bought is a sophisticated fleet management tool that enables them to monitor their fleet activity in extreme detail. This is proving extremely popular in situations where vans are making a number of visits to different locations during the same day. The security benefits are almost just a bonus.'

However, this thinking has not stopped the telematics market moving ahead in security terms. One of Orchid's latest products is Auto Geofence, designed to stop vans being stolen on the back of transporters. A motion sensor comes to life if it feels the vehicle being lifted and compares its position to where it was left parked. If the two don't match up, the alarm can be raised in a number of ways.

One worrying development in recent months that has received widespread publicity is van jacking, where thieves attempt to stop and rob or steal vans with the threat of violence or weaponry. Tracking devices are clearly useful when it comes to knowing where a vehicle is heading once this has happened.

However, there are also more low-technology solutions that can prove useful in protecting staff, vehicles and loads.

One is reinforced glass, a film that bonds to the inside of standard vehicle glass and can withstand violent attack for up to 90 seconds and, crucially, minimises the chance of the driver being badly cut by flying shards of glass. Several firms manufacture such a product including Solutia and Pentagon. Managing director of Pentagon Glass Tech, David Thomas, said: 'Commercial vehicle drivers are in the front line when it comes to vehicle security and safety issues and they need the greatest possible protection.

'With Supaglass, we have a system that adds considerable security but also increases safety because it stops occupants of a vehicle from partial or full ejection in the event of an accident.'

In a recent case, a thief failed to shatter the door window of a Mercedes-Benz van fitted with Supaglass despite using half a house brick and eventually abandoned his task.

For many van operators used to feeling helpless while clearing up the mess after assaults on their vehicles with blunt instruments, it'll bring a smile to their faces to know that in the ongoing war on van crime, this is one attack that failed.

Contacts

Bri-Stor: 01889 271202
Expresslock: 0121 328 2700
Maple Fleet Technology: 0870 606 2753
Orchid: 020 8974 1100
Pentagon Glass Tech: 020 8749 9749
Solutia: 0800 028 3708
Tracker: 01895 234567
The Van Liners: 01204 399842
Vehicle Systems Installation Board: 01708 340911 Action plan to fight crime on your van fleet Advice from the Home Office on commercial vehicles gives some basic pointers that could have a big impact on crime affecting your fleet:

  • Labels. Try to make sure that your load is not labelled in such a way that it is clear to thieves that the goods are of a high value. Use a code on the packaging instead of a descriptive name.
  • Seals. Use security seals on goods packaging that will immediately show if anyone has tried to tamper with the goods.
  • Wheels and batteries. Make sure that any externally stored or mounted wheels or batteries are locked onto the vehicle and clearly marked with irremovable paint.
  • Clothing. Check that staff return official clothing and company ID documents to you when they leave your employment. These items can be useful to a thief trying to claim authority to collect goods. Consignment notes and other official documentation should be kept secure for the same reason.
  • Parking. Where possible, park in a secure, well lit area, keeping the vehicle in sight.
  • Locking. When you leave your vehicle, always lock it and set any alarms. Make sure the load area key is on the same key ring as the ignition key - this means that someone cannot start the vehicle while you are opening the rear or side doors.
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