More than 150,000 motor vehicles were stolen in Great Britain in the year 2018-19, 10,000 more than the year before and a 56% (54,932) increase compared to four years earlier, according to research by RAC Insurance.
Its Freedom of Information request to police forces showed all bar three of the respondents recorded an increase in the numbers of vehicles stolen in their force areas from 2014-15 and 2018-19.
The largest increases in terms of vehicle numbers were seen 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 (up 5,677 to 10,372 thefts; a 121% increase).
The biggest percentage increases were in Suffolk (up 172% from 347 to 945 thefts), Surrey (up 133% from 661 to 1,543 thefts) and the West Midlands; in all, six forces recorded a more than doubling in the number of vehicles stolen between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
Only Lincolnshire, the City of London and Police Scotland recorded a reduction in thefts over this period however, with reductions of 28, 29 and 473 thefts respectively.
Year-on-year comparisons show a worrying trend in rising vehicle crime between 2017-18 and 2018-19, with most respondents reporting increases. 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).
The highest year-on-year percentage increase was seen in Suffolk, which had 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).
While RAC Insurance acknowledged that the number of vehicles licensed to be driven on the UK’s roads is higher than at any point in the past, it highlighted that the rises in crime still show cause for concern.
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.
He added: “One crumb of comfort from the data however is that the increases might be starting to plateau, and it will be interesting to discover just what effect the coronavirus lockdown has on vehicle thefts when the data becomes available.
“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 perhaps some drivers could do more to keep their keys safe. And in an estimated fifth of cases (18% in 2018), thieves were able to access cars because one or more cars weren’t locked in the first place.”