How's This for Dumb? Leaving Your Keys in the Car.

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | May 05, 2015

It’s getting harder and harder to steal cars, thanks to button starts, hard-to-defeat security systems and electronic keys. But unfortunately, a few dope-slap-deserving among us are making it easy for the bad guys by…leaving their keys in the car

Yep, that's right. Absent-minded professors and moms across the nation are leaving the keys to the Accord behind. You shouldn’t need National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB) President Joe Wehrle to remind you, “Leaving the keys in the vehicle is an open invitation for the opportunistic car thief.”

NCIB’s statistics, based on FBI reports, show that just 5.4 percent of the U.S. cars and trucks stolen in 2012 were served up with the keys, but the number jumped to six percent in 2013 and 6.7 percent in 2014. To put that in perspective, the 2014 number represents 44,828 car thefts…with keys!

The actual number of keys-in-car theft is almost certainly higher, since the official numbers reflect only cases where the owner admitted doing it, or the keys were recovered along with the car.

Put another way, if everyone pocketed their keys, car thefts would have totaled 614,889 in 2014, instead of the actual number—659,717. If we actually had only 614,000 thefts, it would be the lowest number since 1966. Car theft is falling rapidly, for the reasons I cited above, but why are we giving the less-savvy criminals a helping hand?

I asked Frank G. Scafidi, an NCIB spokesman, what he’d say to people who leave their keys behind. “I’d say wear comfortable shoes since they may be walking home from wherever they parked their car last,” he said.  

A state with a lot of cars tends to have a lot of thefts. Makes sense to us. (Numbers are not per capita) (NCIB graphic)
A state with a lot of cars tends to have a lot of thefts. Makes sense to us. (Numbers are not per capita)  (NCIB graphic)

Makes sense. Why help thieves win the day? Are the keys so heavy drivers don’t want to lug them around? The irony here is that car theft is actually way down since a record high in 1991. NCIB says the chances of having your car stolen is now lower than at any time since 1960. And newer cars are the most secure. Even with new technology, preventing a theft relies on the simple act of taking the key with you. Says Scafidi:

Keys may yield to fobs or some other piece of technology in time, but if there is a device that needs to be in or near the car for it to start—and people leave it in the car—then the result is the same. It may occur less when traditional keys are as rare as hand-crank ignitions, but that’s a long way off.

While we’re at it, what’s with those among us who leave expensive cameras, laptops and tablets in their cars? The police reports are full of the theft of that kind of high-tech stuff. Thieves now have hand-held devices that can detect Bluetooth signals, so even if you put the electronics in the glove compartment they’re detectable by a tech-savvy thief. It’s not an urban myth: cheap signal detectors are out there, and they’re really helpful in finding expensive devices.

Top metro areas for theft include Vegas, Detroit, Atlanta and Philly. (NCIB graphic)
Top metro areas for theft include Vegas, Detroit, Atlanta and Philly. (NCIB graphic)

And then there’s the holiday thing. Christmas Day is the safest (1,224 thefts), and New Year’s Day the most dangerous (2,184 thefts), according to 2014 statistics. Other holidays to watch out for: Halloween, Memorial Day and Labor Day. So if any more warning is necessary, here's some video about why you should never, ever leave your keys in the car:

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