The number of thefts peaked in 2002 at more than 300,000, but then a new generation of technological innovation in car security – such as electronic key fobs and engine immobilisers – drove down car crime to around the 50,000 mark, where it remained for ten years.
But now it looks like the technology may have grown too big for its own boots and criminals are starting to catch up.
Many modern cars now have a push-button ignition instead of a physical key, allowing the vehicle to be started when the ignition system recognises the signal emitted by the nearby fob.
But crooks are increasingly able to compromise the security of these devices. One method, known as ‘relay crime’ involves a simple device which captures the signal from the fob (typically from inside the owner’s nearby property), relays it to a second device, which then transmits the signal to the car, unlocking it and activating the ignition.
And it’s an alarmingly quick trick to pull off. CCTV footage of a relay theft in the Midlands in November last year showed the felons taking off with a car from outside a house in less than a minute.
Ironically, though, the best way to guard against high-tech crimes, is with low tech solutions. Many car owners are taking to keeping their keys in a metal box, blocking the signal it gives out. And the mechanical steering lock, the main way of protecting cars in the 1980s and ‘90s, is making a comeback.
Digitally-connected devices in vehicles may be designed to make our lives more simple, but sometimes technology also makes life more simple for the criminally minded.