Vehicle thefts have risen to highest level in four years, as more than 150,000 cars, vans and motorcycles were reported as stolen in 2018-19.
It’s an increase of 10,000 vehicles when compared to the year before and a 56% (54,932) increase compared to four years earlier, according to data analysed by RAC Insurance.
All but three of the police forces that responded to a Freedom of Information request recorded an increase in the numbers of vehicles stolen in their force areas from 2014-15 and 2018-19.
The largest increases were recorded by Kent Police (up 12,550 to 40,726 thefts in 2018-19, a 45% increase), Metropolitan Police (up 9,635 to 30,773 thefts, a 46% increase) and West Midlands Police (up 5,677 to 10,372 thefts, a 121% increase).
Six forces recorded a more than doubling in the number of vehicles stolen between 2014-15 and 2018-19, with the biggest jumps in Suffolk (up 172% from 347 to 945 thefts), Surrey (up 133% from 661 to 1,543 thefts) and the West Midlands.
Only Lincolnshire, the City of London and Police Scotland recorded a reduction in thefts during this period, with reductions of 28, 29 and 473 thefts respectively.
Most police forces (32) also recorded a rise in vehicle thefts year-on-year, between 2017-18 and 2018-19. Kent, again, saw the largest rise, as well as the largest number of overall vehicles stolen in 2018-19 (up 2,575 to 40,726 thefts, 7% more than in 2017-18), followed by Essex (up 1,056 to 5,409 thefts, 24% more than in 2017-18) and the West Midlands (up 836 to 10,372 thefts, 9% more than 2017-18).
When looking at the biggest percentage increases over this 12 month period, Suffolk witnessed the highest jump with 44% more thefts (945 in 2018-19 compared to 655 a year earlier), followed by Bedfordshire (37% increase, from 1,056 to 1,445 thefts) and North Wales (32% increase, from 464 to 612 thefts).
RAC Insurance spokesperson Simon Williams said: “These figures paint a rather disturbing picture – vehicle thefts are on the rise almost everywhere, and in some parts of the country numbers are rocketing.
“It’s also not the case that the rises in crime are confined to a few larger urban areas, with many police forces covering more rural areas also seeing big increases.
“While vehicle crime is at far lower levels today than it was in the early 1990s, thanks to improvements in vehicle security, and the number of vehicles licensed to be driven on the UK’s roads is higher than at any point in the past, it’s still concerning that so many more vehicles are being stolen than just a few years ago.”
The average fleet loses around £16,000 per year as a result of vehicle or equipment theft, according to Verizon Connect.
Its research found that businesses have at least one vehicle stolen each year.
The average loss increases to nearly £50,000 for those businesses that have between 101-250 vehicles, as the number of vehicles stolen rises to three for businesses of this size.
Some of the increases in recent years can be put down to a rise in thefts of vehicles that are easier to steal, such as motorbikes and mopeds that are less likely to have immobilisers. Government data also shows that thieves generally use keys to access vehicles in around half of crimes, which suggests that drivers need to do more to keep their keys safe.
Tracker data suggests that nine out of 10 van thefts were performed using the keys.
In a fifth of cases (18% in 2018), thieves were able to access vehicles because they weren’t locked in the first place.
Company car drivers and fleets are being warned by Tracker to be wary of opportunistic criminals looking to steal cars to fill a replacement parts gap caused by COVID-19.
The stolen vehicle recovery company says that police across the country are already fighting an increase in ‘chop shops’ – where stolen vehicles are stripped down and expensive parts sold on. But, it argues, the lack of legitimate parts could increase their popularity and profitability still further.