The number's up for criminals How technology's helping to reduce number plate thefts

Protecting your business against number plate theft

It’s a sinking feeling when the letter comes through the post to inform you that you’ve been caught by a speed camera, and now face the prospect of a fine and points on your licence, or possibly even further action.

It is even more galling however if you discover it couldn’t possibly have been your vehicle caught on the A37 outside Bristol, when your vehicle was sat comfortably on your drive in Edinburgh at the time of the alleged offence.

More often than not this scenario arises after the vehicle’s number plates have been stolen, or cloned, by criminals. However it is a scenario that is thankfully on the decline as the rate of number plate thefts has continued to fall over the past five years or so.

In addition, the introduction of technology such as telematics and in-car tracking has made it much easier for law-abiding motorists to challenge false speeding claims, as well as bogus insurance claims. For example, RAC Telematics tracks the location of vehicles 24/7, thanks to the GPS device fitted in each car and vehicle, which is in contact with the engine at all times and sends back data to the business owner or fleet manager. That location data is reliable and clear proof of where the vehicle is at all times, which can be used to challenge speeding fines or insurance claims that you suspect didn’t involve your vehicle.

The RAC has just published the results of a Freedom of Information request, which has revealed that 26 out of the 34 police forces that responded to the request, recorded a fall in number plate thefts between 2010 and 2014.

Warwickshire Police leads the way with an 80% reduction in thefts, from 404 reported in 2010 to just 82 in 2014. Cheshire Police (55% reduction) and Surrey Police (50%) recorded the second and third biggest reductions respectively.

However, the data also shows there remains a handful of forces that might be losing the battle against number plate theft. West Midlands Police saw a 38% rise in thefts, recording 4,543 instances in 2014 – which is 70% more occurrences than the next busiest force. Derbyshire Police meanwhile recorded a 34% increase (470 instances, up from 351), and North Yorkshire Police an 18% increase (104 instances, up from 88). This could be down to several factors such as policing priorities in the force area or specific regional activity involving organised criminal gangs.

Number plates are stolen for a variety of reasons, and their theft can be an indicator of other criminal activities. Criminals will fix stolen plates to another car of the same make and model to make it appear genuine, and then effectively drive with impunity – ignoring speed cameras, parking and congestion charges, and leaving fuel forecourts without paying.

Overall, the highest number of reported thefts in 2014 were predictably in busy urban force areas – with West Midlands Police followed by Greater Manchester Police (2,629, a fall of 9.5% on 2010), Merseyside Police (1,322, a fall of 8.8%) and Thames Valley Police (1,291, a 46% reduction).

The RAC’s Pete Williams, who carried out the research, said:

“When it comes to number plate theft, this data paints a largely positive picture with some big reductions in instances recorded across many police forces. The DVLA took action on the issue in 2003, requiring identity confirmation and proof of entitlement from motorists getting plates made and it appears this has borne fruit.

“There are however some notable exceptions, with West Midlands Police in particular highlighting a worrying rise in the number of recorded thefts between 2010 and 2014, – while neighbouring force Warwickshire Police recorded the largest fall in thefts.

“Number plate theft is unlikely to happen in isolation, and goes hand-in-hand with other types of crime such as motor vehicle theft and burglary. So instances of number plates being stolen is probably symptomatic of a wider issue that police forces are no doubt well aware of.

“To reduce the chances of becoming a victim, motorists can take steps such as purchasing tamper-resistant number plates or screws, and parking their vehicle in as secure and well-lit location as possible. Sadly though, if a motorist is unlucky enough to get caught out, the onus will be on them to prove their innocence.

“Of course new technology such as RAC Telematics means you are able to keep track of all your business vehicles, 24/7, and there can be no doubt about their location, even if the number plate has been stolen or cloned.

“In separate research carried out by RAC Business, we have discovered that more and more telematics customers are able to challenge bogus speeding or insurance claims thanks to the technology, saving them money and protecting their drivers.”

Until 30th June you can save £35 per vehicle* with FREE installation of RAC Telematics. 

To find out more about how RAC Telematics can support your business call us on: 0330 159 1174