Road Safety and Protecting yourself against Vehicle Crime

Road Safety and Protecting yourself against vehicle crimeThe chances are that you or someone close to you has been the victim of vehicle crime.

Vehicle crime can vary from having your cell phone stolen at a dark intersection by someone who smashes your window to losing your laptop to a thief with a vehicle scanner. But it also includes the theft of your car and related criminal activities that affect you as a motorist, such as a cable theft that leaves traffic lights dead or the theft of crash barriers and manhole covers that pose a major risk to you on the road.

Unfortunately, vehicle crime has become very prevalent in South Africa to the point that many people even joke about hijackings, vehicle theft or smash-and-grab incidents. People will often also speak of certain “high-risk” cars and they may even avoid buying certain cars because they are afraid of the potential hijack or theft risk.

Crime is indiscriminate

While some cars appear to be more of a theft or hijacking risk, it is clear that crime affects all motorists.

According to the South African Police Service, 53 307 cars and motorcycles were stolen in the April 2016 to March 2017 period. While this is much lower than ten years ago, it still means that almost 150 cars and bikes are stolen every day in South Africa.

To find more detailed statistics on which cars are most often stolen can be difficult, but when you phone insurers to find out, they will often tell you that certain cars, bakkies and SUVs are “high risk” and “frequently stolen” and you may end up paying a lot more to ensure one of these vehicles.

While you could argue that some cars are being targeted by criminals, you should consider that many of these “at risk” cars are victims of their own popularity. For instance: If you sell 1 000 units of a specific car every month, and 10% are stolen, then the police will see 100 cases of this car being stolen every month and they will call it a high-risk vehicle.

Another model may not be popular and only sell 60 units a month and even if all of them are stolen every month, the police will still see fewer reports than those of the popular car and they may not consider the second car a high-risk model.

While the debate on high-risk and low-risk cars will continue, the theft of goods from your vehicle is certainly not restricted to high-risk vehicles.

Think of typical crimes like smash-and-grab, where someone may smash your window with a brick or a sharp object to steal your cell phone or purse. Or the growing risk of vehicle scanning, where a criminal blocks the signal from your key with a signal jammer, leaving your car open when you believe you have locked it.

There are also many reported instances where a criminal would smash a rear door window or jam a door lock with something like a screwdriver to break into your vehicle and steal the contents.

According to some sources, there are over 140 000 instances of vehicle-related crimes a year. This translates into more than 380 instances of smash-and-grab, vehicle content theft or related crimes every single day.

Know your car’s security systems

Know your car’s security systems

Since vehicle crime affects all of us, it is important to understand which security systems you have in your car and how they can protect you.

Car alarm

The first important system is the car alarm. Most alarms are linked to the car doors and the alarm will sound if the vehicle is locked and someone opens a door. The car doors will normally include the boot and bonnet as “doors”, but it is important that you ask the local dealer about this.

Car alarms are rated in two ways. Aftermarket systems, which you fit at a dealer or alarm specialist, will normally have a VESA rating. VESA is the Motor Vehicle Safety Association of South Africa, which grades alarms and other vehicle safety systems based on their complexity and efficiency. You should speak to your insurer about the VESA level that is required for aftermarket alarm systems.

If the system was fitted to a new car by the manufacturer, then it will be rated by the SA Independent Accreditation Services (SAIAS) on its Vehicle Security Systems (VSS) scale. Each manufacturer submits the details of its vehicles’ security systems to SAIAS and this rating is available to the vehicle manufacturers, insurers and the police.

You may also be able to get your vehicle’s VSS rating from the insurer, and the insurer will be able to tell you if the vehicle is secure enough according to the industry standard for that type of vehicle.

Motion sensors

A motion sensor is normally linked to the car alarm and will trigger the alarm if it senses any movement inside a locked car. This is helpful in cases where someone breaks a window to steal something from a parked car but does not open the door to trigger the alarm.

Not all cars are fitted with a motion sensor and it is usually only fitted to more expensive vehicles or the more expensive models of a range of vehicles. This is very important because even though you may read that a specific model undergoing a road test has a motion sensor or you see it in a similar car to yours, you should still ask the dealer if your model has that sensor fitted.

Safety film

Safety film (also called smash-and-grab protection) is a thin, durable and translucent film that is fitted on to your side windows to make them less likely to break in the case of a smash-and-grab attack or when someone tries to break the window of your parked car to steal something.

This film is most often fitted as an optional extra but considering how often smash-and-grab incidents happen it is a good idea to fit this film into your car.

Vehicle tracking systems

Vehicle tracking systems

Most vehicle tracking systems will only engage if the vehicle is moving and presumed stolen. Some may have a level of complexity that shows if the alarm is sounding or it may even detect attempted theft.

If you fit a tracking system, make sure to speak to your insurer about its preferred system and what level of protection is required for your type of car. It is also a good idea to ask for a discount on your insurance premium if you have a tracking system fitted.

Other safety equipment

Your vehicle should be fitted with the most basic security systems. These include microdot VIN-information, which is now required by law on all new cars, door locks (sometimes double locks) and a steering lock.

The latter locks your steering wheel and prevents it from turning. You can engage this lock by removing the key and moving your parked car’s steering sideways until you hear it lock. To unlock, you will insert and turn the key and wiggle the steering wheel to unlock it.

Microdots, or datasets, are microscopic dots with your vehicle information number (VIN) embedded. It is sprayed in many hard-to-reach places across your car and it allows the police to identify stolen vehicles quickly with the help of a special lamp.

Being vigilant is the best protection

Being vigilant is the best protection

If you spend any time on the Internet or social media chat rooms, you will find people complaining that their cars have been stolen and that it was “too easy” for the criminals to get away with his or her car. They will blame the manufacturer for making security systems that do not work or for leaving loopholes for the criminals to exploit.

While some cars are certainly more secure than others, all the modern vehicle manufacturers have to comply with national and international standards and with the VSS rating system. This means that their cars are secure and safe, but it certainly does not mean that their cars cannot be stolen.

Most of the local vehicle manufacturers, notably Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Isuzu, have local teams that can study crime patterns and which will make updates to security systems if they see that criminals are exploiting a security weakness.

Unfortunately, these changes take time because they have to be tested, for security, durability and perhaps even crash safety. At the same time, criminals will adapt their methods to the new security system and sadly many of the changes will only last for a while before criminals wise up to them.

With this in mind, you should take the responsibility of securing your vehicle and the goods inside it.

For instance, do not park in a dark area where there are limited traffic and no lights. While you may have an alarm and even a motion sensor, criminals have been found to break open body panels to cut battery power or alarm wires and it is very difficult for any manufacturer to fully protect a car against a committed criminal with a crowbar and no concern for the damage he causes.

At the same time, it is very important to hide any personal items of value out of sight of prying eyes.

Put your GPS and Prada sunglasses under your seat, hide your laptop in the boot and make sure you cover everything. Some people even lock their laptop to the ISOFIX child seat anchor with a Kensington lock if it is stored in the boot or on the back seat.

When you lock your car, make sure to check if the car is in fact locked. A car will not signal that it is locking if there is a signal jammer, but it doesn’t hurt to test the door handle and check. If your car doesn’t want to lock, you can lock it with the physical key, but double check with your dealer that the alarm activates if you lock the car in this way. Otherwise, simply move the car elsewhere.

Lastly, consider beefing up your car security. This is very important if your insurance provider indicates that you do not meet the security standards.

But even if you meet the basic standards, it may be prudent to add a motion sensor, smash-and-grab film or a signal scanner protector to your list of vehicle security systems. If you do fit additional equipment, make sure to check with your vehicle manufacturer if the additional equipment affects your vehicle warranty in any way.

A word of Appreciation to Leo Kok from Mediaserve

Also View

Crime as a Threat to Road Safety

Hijack Prevention Guidelines

Road Safety and Preventing Smash-and-Grab

Car Insurance and Road Safety

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