In 2020, there were over 873,000 auto thefts nationwide — a 9.2% increase over 2019 and the highest number of stolen vehicles in the past decade, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
Experts say several factors likely influenced the dramatic uptick in auto thefts. COVID-19 brought with it desperation, with large numbers of unemployed, and many disenfranchised youths whose schools, jobs, and outreach programs were shut down. History shows such challenging conditions can result in rising crime rates.
But driver complacency also appears to be a recent pattern that puts vehicles at risk for being stolen. For example, NICB conducted a study that shows a growing number of drivers are leaving their keys inside the vehicle—making the vehicle a target for thieves.
According to the study, in 2019, there were 84,131 vehicles stolen with their keys left inside the car as compared with 82,369 and 78,345 in 2018 and 2017, respectively. While the data is not yet available, the pattern suggests that tendency to leave keys or fobs in the car continued in 2020.
Some cities and states have been particularly hard hit by auto theft in 2020. For example, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department found there were nearly 900 vehicle thefts in Fort Lauderdale in 2020, a 7% increase over 2019.
In 2020, the top three states for auto theft were California, Texas, and Florida. The top vehicles for auto theft were Ford and Chevy pickups and Honda Civics and Accords, according to NICB.