Drivers should think twice before leaving their keys in their cars at the gas station or to cool them off as warm weather nears.
More vehicles were stolen in Ohio because keys were left inside between 2016 and 2018 than nearly every other state. Only Texas, California and Florida had more vehicle thefts of that type, according to a recent report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Nearly 12,600 vehicles were stolen in Ohio between the start of January 2016 and Dec. 31, 2018, because their owners left the vehicles running or left keys inside. The numbers could be even higher because some people don’t tell police their keys were inside when reporting a stolen vehicle, according to NICB.
Half of the 840 vehicles stolen in Dayton in 2018 were either left running or with keys inside, according to Dayton police.
“It’s very rare anymore that we actually see any vehicles that have been hot wired or taken without keys,” said Maj. Joe Wiesman, commander of the East Patrol Operations division.
Across the nation, vehicle thefts in general have been dropping. The crime peaked in 1991 when 1,661,738 vehicles were stolen. In 2017 the count was down 54 percent to 765,484. But vehicle thefts with keys inside are on the rise, jumping 88 percent since 2013, according to NICB data.
Most thefts are a crime of opportunity, Wiesman said. And leaving the keys inside a vehicle makes it a much easier target than other modern vehicles.
“Vehicles are manufactured these days with quite a few security features in them preventing them from being hot wired or stolen through other means, but by leaving the car running or the keys in it, then you’ve already allowed the suspect to get past those barriers,” said Sgt. David Garlow of the Huber Heights Police Division.
Leaving keys in cars happens usually in two instances: when warming or cooling the vehicle or when making a quick trip into a convenience store, Wiesman said.
More thefts because of keys left in vehicles occurred in January than any other month in 2018, followed by December, November, July and August, according to NICB. Those four months offer some of the coldest and hottest temperatures in Ohio.
January 1, 2018, was the worst date for car thefts by key during the three years of NICB’s study with 321 vehicles stolen using a key nationwide that day. On average, 209 vehicles are stolen daily in the United States using the vehicles key.
The Huber Heights police department encourages people not to warm their cars up or leave them unattended while running. The only time it’s safe is when motorists are still in the immediate vicinity, scraping windows or some other activity within arms reach of the car.
Even some remote car starters aren’t a safe bet anymore, Garlow said. Most cars started by a remote start will turn off if they fall out of range of the key, but some thieves are finding ways to get around the technology with devices that intersect the signal from the key fob.
“Warming up your car in winter before driving is actually really bad for your car’s engine. Driving your car right away is the fastest way to warm up your engine, and will prolong the life of your engine instead of letting it sit idly before driving,” Ohio Insurance Institute president Dean Fadel said. “It could also prolong your ownership of the car by making it less likely it will be stolen.”
To avoid attracting theft, NICB recommends motorists should lock vehicles, set the alarm, take keys and fobs, do not leave a garage door opener in the car and take photos of registration on cellphone rather than leaving it and other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
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