Auto theft rates lowest since 1967

June 21, 2011: 1:06 PM ET
As auto theft rates decline nationwide, some cities have seen increases. Fresno, Calif., has the highest car theft rate in the nation, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

As auto theft rates decline nationwide, some cities have seen increases. Fresno, Calif., has the highest car theft rate in the nation, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Auto theft in the United States dropped to its lowest levels since 1967 last year, according to a new report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Vehicle theft rates dropped an estimated 7.2% between 2009 and 2010, the NICB said, based on FBI crime data. A total of about 795,000 vehicles were stolen in 2009.

Top 10 places for auto theft
These cities had the highest rate of auto thefts per 100,000 population
1. Fresno, Calif.
2. Modesto, Calif.
3. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
4. Spokane, Wash.
5. Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.
6. Sacramento/Arden-Arcade/Roseville, Calif.
7. Stockton, Calif.
8. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
9. San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont, Calif.
10. Yakima, Wash.
Source:National Insurance Crime Bureau
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Auto thefts weren't down everywhere, however. Thefts rose in the five metro areas that had the highest rate of thefts. Those metro areas, all on the West Coast, are Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield-Delano in California, followed by Spokane, Wash., and Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.

Regional theft rates are calculated based on the number of vehicles stolen compared to the population.

All of the top 10 metro areas for auto theft are on the West Coast. That fact that can probably be attributed to the high rate of car ownership and easy access to ports and international border crossings, said NICB spokesman Frank Scafidi. Professional auto theft rings often try to move cars out of the country.

America's most stolen cars

Reasons for the overall decline in auto thefts include improved built-in anti-theft technology in cars, Scafidi said, and better enforcement, including "bait car" programs.

Police in many cities have been using specially equipped cars that are left parked with the keys in them to attract opportunistic auto thieves. The cars can then be shut off using remote control as thieves try to drive away with them.

Since a relatively small number of auto thieves account for a large number of thefts, "bait car" programs have proven especially effective at fighting the problem.

"There were a lot of very prolific thieve that were taken off the streets in the last few years," Scafidi said.

The NICB recommends a combination of common sense, warning devices, car immobilizing technology and tracking devices to protect against auto theft.

Immobilizing devices include things like smart keys that prevent the engine from being started with copied keys and devices that prevent fuel from flowing unless a hidden button is pressed.

Tracking devices emit signals that allow the vehicle to be located quickly from a remote location. To top of page

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