This article reviews the evidence from 16 studies that have examined the impact of electronic immobilisation on vehicle theft in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and the USA. Six hypotheses that explore how electronic immobilisers work were examined. The results show that 15 of the 16 studies indicate that electronic immobilisation has been successful in reducing vehicle theft. These reductions have mostly been larger for temporary (recovered) vehicle thefts than for permanent (unrecovered) thefts. This may also have resulted in a reduction in young people engaging in vehicle theft. Although some studies showed there had been displacement towards vehicles without electronic immobilisation, this was outweighed by the reductions in vehicle theft observed overall.
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The majority score three rather than higher because of the lack of comparability between the experimental and control groups. There was no evidence that the models in each group were similar.
The Car Theft Index was a publication produced by the Home Office that calculated the rate of theft for each make/model/trim of cars on the road. This was based on vehicle thefts recorded by the police and vehicle population data from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.
Note that the British Crime Survey asks questions about car crime, rather than vehicle crime.
The fact that the vehicle age in the two groups was similar is important because theft rates generally increase with age, meaning it is important to control for the age of the vehicle as much as possible. The weak control for age in the national analysis is identified as a weakness of this study in the Appendix.
Note that the NHTSA report did not refer to electronic immobilisers, but the description given of the security device would seem to be referring to such immobilisers. This is described as follows: In most of the vehicles, the equipment included a specially designed ignition key. A computer in the vehicle reads an encoded capsule embedded in the key and compares it to a microchip within the computer. The ignition is shut down if the codes do not match, or it is attempted to ‘hot wire’ the car (NHTSA, 1998, pp. A35–A36).
The Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act (1984) allowed some model lines to be exempt from parts marking if they were installed with manufacturer fitted security devices.
Note that this hypothesis was confirmed 16 times even though only 15 studies showed a positive impact because in one study Farrell et al (2010) provided evidence for both the United Kingdom and Australia and so was counted twice. Also note that Potter and Thomas (2001) appears twice for this hypothesis – once for Western Australia and once for Australia nationally.
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Brown, R. Reviewing the effectiveness of electronic vehicle immobilisation: Evidence from four countries. Secur J 28, 329–351 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2012.55
- vehicle security
- electronic immobilisation
- vehicle theft
- acquisitive crime