America’s Car Theft Problem

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It goes without saying that having your car stolen is not an experience many people would enjoy. Unfortunately, motor vehicle theft still occurs all around the world and all too often. After briefly touching upon the auto theft rates of the United States in our previous article, Which is the Most Dangerous State to Drive In?, we thought it worth digging into the subject in more depth.

As well as the auto theft rates of each state, we explored other data, including the US cities with the highest auto theft rate, US holidays ranked by auto theft rate and countries ranked by auto theft rate. Read on to find out more…

State Auto Theft Rates (1967-2017)

To look at the USA’s auto theft rate, we took the number of cases in each state and converted them into a standardized rate of car theft per every 100,000 residents.

Firstly, we wanted to see how much each state’s rate of auto theft has changed over the last fifty years.

Topping the table is New York, which has seen its auto theft rate decrease by 85%. The state has clearly worked hard at lowering its theft rate since 1967: it fell from 456.9 all the way to 67.6.

We then wanted to look at the states that have seen the least improvement over the past fifty years and, in the cases below, actually worsen.

At the other end of the table is North Dakota, which has seen its auto theft rate rise by 185% to 234.7 occurrences per 100,000 people over the course of fifty years.

US Cities with the Highest Theft Rates

By looking at state level data, we can get a broad picture of what is happening across the country, but what about at a deeper level? We went more granular to find out the metropolitan areas with the highest theft rates.

Albuquerque, New Mexico came in first place, closely followed by Anchorage, Alaska in second place (this data is supported by our previous study on the USA’s Most Dangerous States once again, which found Alaska & New Mexico in the top two spots for motor vehicle theft rate).

Something that stood out to us was that California had no less than five cities appear in the top ten. None of these five cities have particularly large populations either: one might expect heavily populated areas like Los Angeles or San Diego (with populations of 3.9 million and 1.4 million respectively), but instead the largest Californian city on the list is Bakersfield (with a comparatively small population of 380,874).

US Theft Rate Year by Year

By now we’ve looked fairly extensively into US motor vehicle theft at a state and city level, but what about the country as a whole? How has its overall auto theft rate changed over recent years?

It’s encouraging to see that the total is far lower than 2008’s result: 959,059 auto theft cases. However, it’s somewhat distressing to see that the country’s number of auto thefts has been on the rise for the last few years since 2014’s low total of 686,803 thefts. We can at least find some solace in the way the increase seems to be slowing down – the 2015/16 increase was 7.6% while the 2016/17 increase was only 0.8%.

US Holiday Theft Rates

The holiday season is normally stressful enough without the thought of being a victim of auto theft, but which day is the worst for it?

New Year’s Day turned out to be the most popular day for auto theft, with 2,469 cases. Maybe this is because people are sleeping in after a late night spent celebrating the new year, leaving thieves all too happy to pinch unprotected vehicles.

At the other end of the rankings, Christmas Day had the lowest number of auto thefts with a total of 1,664 (followed by Thanksgiving with 1,777 and Christmas Eve with 2,054). Apparently, even thieves like to take the day off when Christmas comes around…

Theft Rate by Country

Finally, we broadened our scope to compare auto theft rates on a global scale. Although the data below comes from 2016, it is sourced from the highly authoritative United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The top two countries on the list both come from the Americas (Bermuda in North America and Uruguay in South America). Both countries have fairly low numbers of thefts compared to many of the other countries on the table – they make up for this by having particularly low populations. Bermuda in particular has a population of just 71,176.

At the other end of the list, the two countries with the lowest auto theft rate are both African. Senegal had only 7 listed auto thefts in 2016, while Kenya had only 425. If you’d like to see the full results and tables as well as the data sources, click here.


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