Winter is on the way, its arrival foreshadowed by darker mornings and temperatures that plummet toward freezing and below. Soon, thoughts of going outside to scrape ice from a car windshield before sliding into a cold seat are enough to make you consider quitting your job and hibernating until spring. Making a mad dash outside, just long enough to turn the key and allow the car to warm up, seems ever-more reasonable the colder it gets.
Our lives are filled with daily actions geared toward self-protection and the safety of our families. Whether conscious or unconscious, we work to increase safety and reduce vulnerability. Fencing around yards, locks on doors and camera systems are visible reminders of those efforts. Much of what we do are routine safety practices described as “common sense.” The idea of walking away from your locked, password-protected and GPS-trackable phone in a public area is unthinkable! The reality is, it takes no longer to drive off in a running, unattended vehicle than it does to take your phone. An analysis of cases where running, unattended vehicles were stolen indicates that creature comforts and convenience short circuit our awareness related to self-protection.
Every fall, the Ogden Police Department’s Community Policing Bureau and our graveyard Patrol Squads begin a campaign to educate our citizens about unattended, running vehicles. Data shows that with winter, comes a predictable and largely preventable spike in vehicle thefts. We know that at the first sign of frost, our neighborhoods are filled with cars idling unattended in driveways and along the streets. The visible emissions curling up and away from the tailpipe and the soft glow of parking lights covered by a thin layer of ice stand out like a beacon to criminals. Leaving a running, unattended vehicle, whether you’re warming it up, grabbing a quick cup of coffee or running children into the babysitter, greatly increases your likelihood of becoming a victim of vehicle theft. While it’s unimaginable, we’ve all seen the stories that involve child victims when a car is taken, having been left running at a gas pump or in front of a convenience store.
The FBI estimates that 6 billion dollars were lost due to motor vehicle theft in 2018. There were 748,841 motor vehicles stolen. That averages 236.9 stolen vehicles per 100,000 people. The average dollar loss per theft was $8,407. Those are huge numbers, but by the time you get to this sentence, it’s likely already left your awareness, with a negligible impact on changing behaviors. When viewed from an Ogden perspective, at a population of nearly 90,000, thinking that over 200 of your friends, family members and neighbors could be affected, it makes acting with prevention in mind that much more important.
The reality is, having your car stolen is just the beginning of the nightmare. There are hours of lost time between making police and insurance reports, as well as rearranging everything in your life that is dependent on having transportation. Insurance claims are tedious and time-consuming. Liability-only policies have no theft coverage at all. There are waiting periods on auto theft claims, and usually no coverage for personal property (e.g. work tools or other property) left in the vehicle at the time.
In addition to the theft potential, running vehicles pose a safety hazard and liability for the owner if an accident or property damage occurs. The police department can issue citations for running, unattended vehicles, but our preference is always education and voluntary compliance based on awareness and good common-sense practices. Winter is hard enough already; don’t become a victim of auto-theft.