Australian Institute of Criminology

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Car theft - 1 conviction for every 47 cars stolen

Media Release

10 December 2000

New figures released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology show that the criminal justice system imposes more severe penalties on car thieves than 15 years ago but most car thieves do not get caught.

In releasing these figures, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar, said while the rate of car theft was the same today as it was in 1983, those imprisoned for car theft are likely today to spend an average of 90 days per conviction, whereas in 1983 they served 19 days per conviction.

There was a paradox, said Dr Graycar, in dealing with theft ratios. AIC research estimates that on average, in 1983 an offender was convicted for every 31 cars stolen, while in 1998 an offender was convicted for every 47 cars stolen. However, the AIC estimates that in 1983, an offender had to steal 355 cars before going to jail, whereas in 1998 an offender had to steal 135 cars before going to jail.

While these figures demonstrate that we are not terribly successful in apprehending car thieves, Dr Graycar points out that different types of interventions are appropriate for different types of car thieves. Programs such as "Hand Brake Turn" appear to work very effectively with young people who are opportunistic and inexperienced car thieves and the success rate seems very high. On the other hand, recidivist professional car thieves are rarely apprehended and the penalties are still not severe enough to keep them locked up for the time required to reduce their impact on the rate of motor vehicle theft or to deter other uncaught car thieves.

Australian rates of car theft are among the highest in the world, but the problem is one that has been left largely to insurance companies. In only 16% of motor vehicle thefts do police clear the crime. This proportion has remained constant since 1983.

One in 70 households are victims of car theft and about 83% of stolen cars are recovered, so most people tend not to take car theft as a serious crime. About half of cars are stolen at home or near home. Access to adequate parking facilities seem to be an important issue as does the uptake of theft prevention technologies such as vehicle alarms and immobilisers. Public attitudes to car and parking security are as important as developing knowledge about offenders and organised crime.


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Explanatory notes

Figure 2

  • 16% of car theft incidents cleared by police in 1998 resulted in a conviction, yet 2% of all car theft incidents resulted in a conviction.
  • In 1983 there was 1 conviction per every 31 car theft incidents. In 1998 there was 1 conviction per every 47 car theft incidents.

Figure 3

  • More convicted car theft offenders were sentenced to prison in 1998 than 15 years ago. In 1998, 35% of convicted car thieves were sentenced to a term of imprisonment. This was almost four times the percentage of 9% in 1983.
  • Only 7 in 1000 persons who committed car thefts in 1998 were sent to prison. This was over twice the rate of 3 per 1000 observed in 1983.

Figures 4 and 5

  • In 1983 there was 1 offender sent to prison for every 356 incidents of car theft. In there was 1 offender sent to prison for every 135 incidents of car theft.
  • The average number of days served in prison by convicted car thieves has increased from 19 days in 1983 to 90 days in 1998.