In the same way we protect our homes with locks, burglar alarms and smoke detectors, we need to take steps to secure our cars.
Unfortunately, car crime in the UK is on the up, especially car theft. Home Office figures cited by This is Money reveal a car was stolen every five seconds during 2017-18. That's a total of 111,999 cars – a huge 48.7% increase in five years alone.
Experts say that the rise in car-related crime is the result of organised gangs using advanced keyless technology to remotely steal cars, together with cuts to policing budgets that have led to dwindling officer numbers.
Of course, there are other types of car-related crime, like so-called smash 'n' grabs, number plate theft and car torching. Criminals are now even stealing catalytic converters from cars because they contain valuable metals.
Why is safety important in cars?
Car safety can mean two things: the steps you take to secure your car, and the features your car has to help you keep you and your passengers safe.
Waking up in the morning to realise your car's been vandalised, broken into or stolen is incredibly frustrating. If you've fallen victim to car-related crime, you need to report the incident to the police and get in touch with your insurance provider.
Whether or not you can claim will depend on the case and the type of car insurance you have. Third party only cover, for instance, won't cover you if your car is stolen or set on fire, but third party, fire and theft and comprehensive policies should.
What are the safety features of a car?
Modern cars come equipped with a huge range of features designed to keep you safe. So, if you're on the lookout for a new motor, it's worth comparing safety features when making your decision. Here are some common ones, outlined by Which?:
- Electronic stability control (ESC) reduces engine power and often individual brakes if the system detects that your car is about to lose stability or is at risk of skidding.
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) alerts you to an impending collision, with the system automatically performing an emergency stop if you don't take action.
- Adaptive cruise control uses radar to keep a set, safe distance from the car in front – if the car in front slows down, the system automatically reduces your car's speed to match.
- Lane-keeping technology warns you if your car strays too close to the edge of a lane. More advanced systems will make steering adjustments to keep your car within the lane.
- Smart seatbelt reminders sense which seats in the car are being used and alert you if any seatbelts aren't fastened.
- Attention monitoring systems pick up signs that could indicate that you're tired, and will vibrate or sound an alarm to let you know it's time to take a break.
- Tyre pressure monitoring systems warn you about incorrect tyre pressures, which can impact a car's safety and stability.
You can also check the safety of your car or of the model you're thinking about buying on the Euro NCAP website.
Why car safety checks are important
As the Gov.UK website explains, drivers are responsible for making sure their car is safe to drive – aka 'roadworthy' – whenever they're on the road. You could be fined up to £2,500, get three penalty points on your licence or be banned from driving if you're caught driving a car that's in a dangerous condition.
It's your responsibility to carry out regular car safety checks, which should involve testing things like the brakes and lights, and making sure the windscreen, windows and mirrors are clean. Your car's manual will contain information on how often you should check things like engine oil, battery, brake fluid level and tyres.
How can I secure my car?
There are many things you can do to protect your car and prevent it from being stolen or broken into.
- Always keep valuables out of sight. This includes things like sat-nav mounts or USB cables, because criminals might assume you're keeping some valuable gadgets in your glovebox.
- Does your car have an immobiliser? If not, consider fitting one – making sure the device is Thatcham-approved. Steering wheel locks are effective, too.
- Fully close your windows and sunroof whenever you leave your car, as even a tiny gap can provide an easy entry point for thieves. This applies even if you're popping into your local shop for a loaf of bread!
- If you've got a garage or driveway, use them! Stating that you park your car at your property rather than on a public road could cut your car insurance premium, too.
- Consider installing a motion-sensor security light on your driveway, as these can act as effective thief deterrents.
- If you're parking your car away from home during the day, public car parks are your safest bet as most of them have CCTV cameras in operation. Otherwise, choose a space in a busy and open area.
Can a car be stolen without keys?
Yes – criminals can steal cars without having to steal the keys first. This is Money lists two of the most common tricks criminals use, and shares tips on how you can prevent yourself from falling victim:
Relay hack keyless entry
This is when criminals use a 'relay box' to boost your car key signal even when your keys aren't close to the car. It allows them to imitate the exact signal so your car unlocks. Stay safe by disabling the key signal when you aren't using your car and by storing your keys in a secure container that blocks signals.
Another trick criminals use is to stop the car key locking signal from reaching the vehicle so it stays unlocked when you move away from it. Always manually check your doors are locked and use a steering wheel lock for extra safety.
Read more about keyless car theft.
Car insurance from Hastings Direct
If you're looking for straightforward car insurance for a price that won't break the bank, Hastings Direct can set you up with a policy that's right for you. Choose from different levels of cover and a range of optional extras.