We have some good news. Even last year's start of the recession wasn't enough to reverse the downward trend in auto theft. The number of registered vehicles in the U.S. has doubled over the past 20 years, yet the overall vehicle theft rate has fallen—12.7 percent just from 2007 to 2008.
According to the FBI, there were 956,846 motor-vehicle thefts in 2008, down significantly from 1,095,769 thefts in 2007 and 1,237,851 thefts in 2004. Thefts reached a peak in 1991, when a total of about 1.66 million vehicles were stolen.
Overall, the rate of vehicle thefts per 100,000 people has gone from 659 in 1991 to 315 today, and adjusted for the greater number of registered vehicles the chances of theft are about a third of what they were 20 years ago.
Theft rates remain significantly higher in West Coast states and the Southwest. In border areas, stolen vehicles are frequently used to carry drugs and weapons in and out of Mexico, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Across the nation, adjusted per capita, your chances of vehicle theft in major metropolitan areas are nearly double those in smaller cities and nearly triple those in rural areas.
Numbers aside, how are we achieving those reductions? There's no doubt law enforcement has played a part, but deterrence and cooperation from automakers has been the key. Thanks to ignition immobilizers—installed on about 86 percent of new cars today, versus just five percent in 1989—car theft has been turned into a much more sophisticated endeavor that has succeeded in discouraging 'casual' crooks, leaving only the most determined thieves. For those, new GPS tracking systems have provided an extra measure that's proven difficult to outwit.
And we'll all sleep better at night thanks to fewer of those ill-installed aftermarket security systems.