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Government signals crackdown on car theft

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

12 January 2005

Media statement

Government signals crackdown on car theft

Justice Minister Phil Goff today launched the government's Vehicle Crime Reduction Programme, the major features of which are the introduction of universal fitting of immobilisers and use of Whole of Vehicle Marking on newly imported cars and light vehicles.

The use of immobilisers and Whole of Vehicle Marking will apply to all new and used vehicles less than 15 years old that are imported after the regime comes into effect. With the need to have standards, regulations and compliance requirements in place, both processes should be implemented within 18 months.

“Vehicle theft costs New Zealand about $110 million a year. It imposes on thousands of ordinary New Zealanders significant financial costs, involves major inconvenience, and adds to the cost of insurance premiums for every motorist," Mr Goff said.

"Just over 22,000 vehicles were stolen in 2003/04, accounting for 5.2 per cent of all recorded crime. About 80 per cent of vehicle crime is opportunistic; the remaining 20 per cent is professional crime involving the fraudulent re-identification of a vehicle or theft of its parts.

"Immobilisers – which interrupt the power supply required to start an engine and can only be overridden by the correct electronic signal – stop cars being hotwired. They are recognised internationally as the best way to reduce opportunistic theft of vehicles.

"Currently only five to 10 per cent of used vehicles imported into New Zealand are fitted with immobilisers while 90 to 95 per cent of new cars have them. Overseas evidence suggests that making immobilisers compulsory will have a significant impact within three years.

"In West Australia vehicle theft fell 34 per cent between 1999 and 2001, during which time the number of vehicles fitted with immobilisers rose from 45 per cent to 70 per cent. In the UK, where all new vehicles have required immobilisers since 1998, vehicle theft has fallen 23 per cent."

Mr Goff said Whole of Vehicle Marking (WOVM), such as microdots, would reduce the professional thefts by securely marking vehicles and their parts.

"Professional car crime usually involves taking a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from a deregistered car and putting it on a stolen vehicle of similar make, to give it a supposedly legitimate identity for re-sale.

"WOVM involves placing the VIN on all parts of a car – mostly commonly by applying several thousand microdots that are only visible through an ultra-violet viewer and are very difficult to remove. This makes it hard to change the car's identity, and significantly increases the risk of detection for an offender trying to sell stolen vehicles or car parts.

"This has proven a strong deterrent to professional criminals in countries where it has been introduced. For example, since their September 2001 introduction in Australia, the theft rate of marked BMWs and Holdens has been 60 per cent and 73 per cent less respectively than the unmarked equivalents.

"According to Subaru New Zealand, the marked Subaru range has not seen one theft here since its March 2003 introduction."

Other initiatives under the Vehicle Crime Reduction Programme are:

- New Zealand's decision to join Australia's Comprehensive Auto Theft Research System (CARS). This is the world's most sophisticated vehicle crime research database. It integrates vehicle registration and crime data from Police, LTSA and the insurance industry and will assist Police to develop smarter, intelligence-led strategies targeting vehicle crime, and allow them to tailor those strategies to tackle theft patterns at a local level;
- An Enhanced Vehicle Deregistration System to make it harder for criminals to use registration plates and VIN from deregistered cars;
- An Accredited Secure Parking Scheme, which will grant 'secure parking' status to facilities with crime-reducing security such as effective lighting, manned barriers and high levels of surveillance;
- A Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Group will be created, comprising government and industry representatives who would monitor the initiatives, and recommend reforms and addition crime reduction initiatives.

Mr Goff said immobilisers are initially expected to cost $300 per vehicle, with competition expected to halve that figure within three years. WOVM is expected to cost around $100. Once the regime comes into effect, around 150,000 vehicles per year will need to be fitted with immobilisers and 160,000 per year marked with WOVM upon arrival in New Zealand.

All Phil Goff’s media releases and speeches are posted at www.beehive.govt.nz

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