New research from Direct Line Motor Insurance reveals 1,156 people under the age of 18 have been charged with vehicle theft in the past three years, the equivalent of more than one per day.
The statistics also reveal that children as young as 12 have been charged with the crime.
More than half (53 per cent) of under-18s charged with vehicle theft in the past three years were aged between 15 and 16. However, 10 per cent of those charges were aged between 13 and 14. Seven children aged between 11-12 were also charged during this period. South Yorkshire Police revealed children as young as 10 have been arrested for car theft in each of the past three years.
The figures show that 514 under-18s were charged with vehicle theft in 2019. The number of young people charged fell to 356 in 2020 and 286 in 2021 when pandemic travel restrictions were in force. However, there are concerns the number of under-18s charged with vehicle theft could increase again now that restrictions have ended.
The notion of car theft as a gateway crime is supported by data from West Yorkshire Police. It shows 765 people aged under 18 in the region were charged with other offences between 2019 and 2022, having previously been charged with vehicle theft. Of these, 180 young people were charged with burglary having previously been charged with vehicle theft.
Professor Rachel Armitage, Professor of Criminology, University of Huddersfield, said,“Our research found many prolific car thieves start committing vehicle crime at a young age, often in their early teens.
“Unfortunately, car crime can often be a gateway crime to more serious offences. Offending can sadly be driven by older family members, or to fund an illegal drug habit, so it is important we also consider how vulnerable children can be supported to help prevent them engaging in criminal activity in the first place.”
Lorraine Price, head of motor insurance at Direct Line added, “More than one car theft each day is committed by a child or teenager, which is a sad reflection of our society.
“That children as young as 12 are being charged with vehicle theft is truly shocking. Children should be focussing on school and having fun, they should be protected from older family members or associates seeking to lead them into a life of crime.
“Having your car stolen can be incredibly distressing and cause significant inconvenience for the victim. While car owners shouldn’t have to take additional precautions to protect their vehicles, they can reduce the risk of being targeted.”