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Motor Vehicle Theft: Definition, Statistics & Law

Instructor: Joseph Jones
In this lesson, motor vehicle theft will be defined. Additionally, statistics and laws surrounding this type of crime will be analyzed. There is a quiz to check your knowledge at the end of the lesson.

Motor Vehicle Theft Defined

Let's say you were attempting to join a fraternity, and as an initiation, you were told that you had to go and get a bulldozer. You proceed to go to the nearest construction site, steal a bulldozer, and drive it back to the fraternity. You may be guilty of theft, but you would not be charged with motor vehicle theft.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), motor vehicle theft is defined as the taking or attempted taking of a motor vehicle without permission of the owner. They go on to define a motor vehicle as any self-propelled vehicle that runs on land and not on rails. This does not include farm equipment, bulldozers, airplanes, construction equipment, or watercraft.

Motor Vehicle Theft Statistics

Crime in the United States is voluntarily reported by municipalities to the FBI. The FBI then keeps a database of the various reported crimes through the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. According to that information, in 2013, there were an estimated 699,594 vehicles stolen in the U.S., with a motor vehicle being stolen every 44 seconds.

Though vehicle theft has declined over that last two decades, thieves are finding new and improved methods to commit the crime. Two of these methods include using smart keys, which allows them to start the vehicles without damaging anything, and switching vehicle identification tags.

The most popular vehicles stolen are the Honda Accord, followed by the Honda Civic. Obviously, living in an urban or high crime area may affect your chances of being a victim of auto theft. Statistically, of the top areas in the nation where vehicles are stolen, half continue to be either port towns or towns that are close to a border. California had the highest rate of auto thefts in 2013, with Bakersfield, Fresno, and Modesto leading the list as having the highest rate of auto thefts per capita.

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