It’s Monday morning, and you wake up to go to work. Before you leave the house, you grab the keys to your Hyundai. You expect to find where you left it last night – parked in your driveway. Yet when you leave the house, you don’t see your car there. For thousands of people across the country, this is an all-too familiar situation. Auto thefts have been rising steadily in the U.S. for a few years, with the last year hitting New York particularly hard.
Why the Increase in Auto Thefts?
According to the Council on Criminal Justice, “The number of vehicle thefts during the first half of 2023 was 33.5 percent higher, on average, than during the same period in 2022 – representing 23,974 more vehicle thefts in the cities that reported data.”
Why? Police departments point to certain cars that are easy to steal. Specifically, millions of Kias and Hyundais were sold without electronic immobilizers, which have been standard on cars in the U.S. for many years. For cars without immobilizers, a thief can use a USB plug to start the car’s engine.
Online how-to videos show how simple it is to do this. Additionally, there was a recent TikTok challenge where videos went viral showing how to steal the Kias and Hyundais. Many doing these thefts are youths, and they steal the cars to go joyriding. After stealing the car, they drive dangerously and often film themselves. Then, the videos are posted online and get tens of thousands of views.
However, joyriding can become reckless. Some of these incidents have resulted in property damage, injuries, and even deaths. Moreover, the stolen cars have been used to commit other types of crimes.
New York’s Response to Increasing Auto Thefts
In the first seven months of 2023, certain localities in New York saw a huge increase in car theft – and 345% in Monroe County and 213% in Erie County. As such, NYS Governor Kathy Hochul introduced the Comprehensive Auto-Theft Reduction Strategy (“CARS”).
Under CARS, $50 million will go to law enforcement for technology and equipment to combat auto thefts. Additionally, $5 million will go to enhance youth justice alternatives and diversion programming. The State Police and Division of Criminal Justice Services will also implement new enforcement efforts. For example, such efforts will include supporting local district attorneys and launching a public engagement campaign targeting vulnerable car owners.
How Manufacturers Are Responding to Auto Thefts
While installation of the immobilizer is not required under federal safety standards, it is an easy and effective method to deter theft. After the increase in thefts, Hyundai and Kia offered software upgrades and steering wheel lock giveaways to combat the problem. Immobilizers now come standard in all Kias and Hyundais made since November 2021. But the car makers are still facing lawsuits regarding their prior failures to install the immobilizers on their vehicles.
- Sara Morrison, “The Kia Challenge, explained,” Vox.com (June 8, 2023). Available at: https://www.vox.com/technology/2023/6/1/23742757/kia-hyundai-challenge-tiktok-instagram-youtube (last accessed Sept. 29, 2023).
- Farhad Manjoo, “Opinion: Kia and Hyundai Helped Enable a Crime Wave. They Should Pay for It,” New York Times (Sept. 1, 2023). Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/01/opinion/kia-hyundai-tiktok.html (last accessed Sept. 29, 2023).
- NYS Governor, “Governor Hochul Unveils Targeted Action Plan to Combat Car Thefts,” Press Release (Sept. 15., 2023). Available at: https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-hochul-unveils-targeted-action-plan-combat-car-thefts (last accessed Sept. 29, 2023).
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