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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > …And Thefts Are Booming

The word spread like wildfire throughout the community of professional thieves: Fords are easier to steal than other recent car models.

NOW, in response to questions, the Ford Motor Co. admits it.

William Brown of Ford’s Washington staff says, “There’s no denying the numbers. The ratio is some­what higher on Fords . . . . Apparently we’re talking about professionals. They have found a way of defeat­ing a Ford easier than other products.”

FBI reports confirm that Ford models from 1972 to 1975 are almost twice as susceptible to theft as the average car. Word from the Justice Department is that Ford is making some changes in the locking sys­tems on its 1976 vehicles. But the company won’t talk about it except to say some action will be taken shortly.

Car theft is booming. About one out of every 129 registered automobiles was stolen in 1974 — a total of about 975,000 automobiles with a value of $1.5 billion. This is nearly twice the proportion of cars to regis­tered automobiles stolen in 1960.

This increase is continu­ing despite the steering col­umn ignition and key-in warning systems on cars since 1969. FBI surveys con­clude that for 1972-1975 pas­senger cars, 57 percent of those heisted were not “hot-wired,” indicating the use of a key. The ignition sys­tems of the other 43 percent had been forced or compro­mised in some manner.

WHILE JUVENILES commit nearly three of every four auto thefts, it is the professionals, more adept at the trade, who are responsible for the bulk of stolen cars that are never recovered.

Many of these cars are “adapted” for resale here or through a growing illicit export market. Others are stripped of engines and other parts. Volkswagens and Chevrolets are far more likely to be stripped of their engines, according to the FBI data.

There are other than eco losses from car theft Insurance studies estimate that stolen cars are 200 times more likely to be in­volved in accidents than other passenger vehicles.

High-speed police pur­suits, which sometimes re­sult in crashes and trage­dies to innocent motorists, frequently involve stolen vehicles. Moreover, tens of thousands of youngsters begin criminal careers by car filching.

FOR MANY years, law enforcement officials have wrung their hands futilely over car thefts. With the exception of the above-noted key-in warning, little effort has been directed to­ward getting the manufac­turers to develop better “technical fixes” that make cars harder to steal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administra­tion in the Department of Transportation will invite comment this month for im­proved car security regula­tions.

NHTSA’s Johnny Carson suggests the regulations considered may include one calling for strengthened locking mechanisms to re­sist easy breaking. Also to be considered is a proposal to design cars in a way that would prevent one person carrying tools from enter­ing a locked car in under three minutes.

Last May, the Depart­ment of Transportation and the Department of Justice formed an “Interagency Committee on Auto Theft” to consider the potential of (1) laws against leaving cars unlocked or keys in cars, (2) better locking sys­tems, (3) uniform title and registration procedures, (4) a computerized titling sys­tem connecting all states, and (5) electromagnetic vehicle-identification num­bers.

MOST INTERAGENCY committees in government generate meetings but little else. If this one is to be any different, send its members your suggestions and ask them to tell you what they have done, from time to time, to achieve their stated goal of reducing car thefts by SO percent in five years.

Write to Kevin Maroney at the Department of Jus­tice, Washington, D.C. 20530. Meantime, lock your car –inside and out.