Fleets have been advised to talk to drivers about car security in the face of rapidly rising numbers of UK thefts.

According to figures from the Home Office, 111,999 vehicles were stolen in the financial year 2017-18 – a 48.7% increase on 2013-14, when 75,308 thefts took place.

The current financial year also started with high numbers of thefts, with nearly 60,000 recorded by the end of September.

Factors blamed for the rise include the exploitation of vulnerabilities in keyless car entry systems by organised criminals, along with a reduction in policing numbers.

According to Caroline Sandall, deputy chairman of fleet operator organisation Acfo, fleets should take steps to advise drivers about security risks.

“As with all things fleet, appropriate driver communication is important,” she said. “Ensure drivers are aware of the risks and ways to avoid them – share news with them and guidance to help them protect themselves and a company’s valuable assets. 

“It is also important to advise that drivers should not put themselves at unnecessary personal risk.”

Sandall added that communication was particularly important should a fleet experience any spikes in crime.

“If any fleet is unfortunate enough to experience a spate of thefts or attempted thefts, it is important to recommunicate guidance so as to remind all drivers of the various ways in which they can avoid such incidents,” she said.

“Vehicle thefts and attempted thefts are costly and highly inconvenient, so whilst a company car driver may not necessarily be out of pocket themselves, they will be highly inconvenienced.”

Methods known to be used by thieves include relay attacks, where electronic devices allow thieves – one stood outside a property where the car’s key is kept, the other by the car – to fool the vehicle into thinking the keyless fob is present, allowing them to drive off.

Sandall said that drivers could consider, if possible, parking in such a way that their vehicle is either blocked in or difficult to manoeuvre, while fleets could consider equipping them with a physical deterrent such as a steering wheel lock.

She said drivers should make sure keys are not visible through the doors or windows of a property, not leave valuables on show inside the car, and, of course, not leave keys in an unattended vehicle.

According to motor industry body Thatcham Research, other ways to address theft concerns included finding out if key fobs can be switched off overnight, and storing keys as far away from the front door of a property as possible, hampering a criminal’s ability to relay its signal.

Shielding devices are also available, such as Faraday pouches and containers that can block the signal from keyless entry fobs, although Thatcham advises that drivers should test these to make sure they work.

It also says spare keys should not be left in vehicles, drivers should make sure vehicles are locked when leaving them, and secure parking locations should be preferred.

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham Research, said: “Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in car thefts over the past 18 months, and our intelligence suggests that it is being driven by organised crime gangs.  

“Encouragingly, we are seeing some new technologies starting to emerge from car makers such as Mercedes and Jaguar Land Rover to prevent specific types of theft.  

“An example is car keys that essentially go to sleep and don’t give out a signal unless they are moving, but it can take time for this new technology to be developed and rolled out.”

According to RAC Insurance director Mark Godfrey, reductions in the number of police officers are also a factor.

He said: “The figures paint a very depressing picture of a society where it is all too easy for gangs of thieves to break in and steal vehicles, and where there are fewer police officers to catch them and bring them to justice. 

“From 2013 to 2018 we lost 5,975 police officers, but looking further back to 2006 the story is even worse, with 21,958 fewer officers, which represents a
15% reduction.”

Godfrey said increasing numbers of thefts would inevitably have an effect on insurance premiums.

“Every vehicle stolen and not returned safely to its owner represents a cost that is borne by every motorist who lawfully pays their insurance,” he said. “If the number of thefts could be reduced, then insurance premiums would undoubtedly be lower. 

“Aside from this it is impossible to underestimate the impact on individuals and businesses who suffer from this type of crime.”