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The thief (or thieves) didn’t succeed, but they left plenty of marks on my Kia Soul. The person ripped off my rear windshield wiper. I later learned it’s a tactic in “Kia Boys” social media videos to tear the wipers off, because the hot wiring technique they use can mess up the car’s wiper control. My driver’s-side door now has a bunch of scratches where some sort of crowbar was used to try to get in. And the rear passenger-side window has numerous dents where it looks as if the person tried to attach a device to break open the window.

Editorial: We spent a night in a D.C. cop car. Here’s the truth about what we saw.

I was lucky. In a city that had nearly 1,000 carjackings last year and over 6,800 vehicle thefts (a more than 80 percent jump from 2022), I still have a drivable car. I was also lucky because I was in a D.C. police helicopter when this happened. We were flying over a different part of the city looking for a vehicle fleeing a crime scene. We were diverted to fly over police headquarters due to suspicious activity outside. Below, we could see officers patrolling the street. The helicopter flew around for awhile and beamed a spotlight down to deter anyone else contemplating a heist. No one was arrested, but I’m thankful I had only $250 in damage.

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Now that I’ve had a few weeks to fix my car and reflect, I’m angry at the attempted thief — and at U.S. regulators. This crazy trend of teenagers stealing Kia and Hyundai cars is a uniquely American problem. It isn’t going on in Canada or Europe. Why not? By 2007, Canada, Australia and most other well-off nations required automakers to install an ignition immobilizer — a simple and inexpensive device that makes it difficult to start the car unless another chip device (normally attached to the key) is in the vehicle. In short, it’s an effective tool to keep people from stealing cars for a joyride. The United States still doesn’t require them.

Editorial: As carjackings spike, police need to be able to chase vehicles again

This helps explain why only about a quarter of Kias and Hyundais manufactured from 2011 to 2021 had immobilizers. Without the device, the vehicles can be stolen in less than a minute, using only a screwdriver and a USB cable. Insurance claims for thefts of vulnerable Kia and Hyundai models jumped 1,000 percent in the first half of 2023 compared with 2020, according to new data from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Follow this authorHeather Long's opinions

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“It’s a regulatory loophole. Obviously, the standard needs to be upgraded,” said Allan Kam, a former senior attorney at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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What’s especially aggravating is that the NHTSA reviewed this in 2016. Instead of requiring that all vehicles sold in the United States have immobilizers from then on, the agency made the bizarre decision to say that if an automaker puts an immobilizer in a vehicle, it has to meet standards similar to Canada’s. This twisted logic is why the NHTSA refused to force Kia and Hyundai to do a nationwide recall to fix the problem. A coalition of 17 state attorneys general, and the D.C. attorney general, begged the agency for a recall last year, but the NHTSA threw up its hands and said there’s no requirement for an immobilizer and the U.S. standard “does not contemplate actions taken by criminal actors.”

My Kia Soul actually has an immobilizer. It’s a newer model. But thieves can’t tell the difference (or they don’t care). Many of the carjackings in D.C. last year were committed by kids under 18. In most cases, these children are stealing cars for fun and TikTok fame.

Kia and Hyundai deserve some of the blame. The two auto companies have reached a preliminary $200 million settlement in a class-action case from car owners. But the consumers, who have been dealing with this since 2021, won’t receive any money until, at best, late this year. Kia and Hyundai are also offering a free update to help deter theft. But this isn’t enough. As criminals know, the companies haven’t fixed anywhere near the 8 million vehicles that came with this flaw.

There’s a reason the U.S. economy soared and others were mediocre

This problem isn’t fading away. Teens stealing vehicles are highly prone to crashes, including fatal crashes, which only adds to the tragedy and to safety concerns. This should be enough to trigger a recall.

Advertisement

After my own experience shadowing police for a night, I’m putting a tracking device in my car. A $30 tracker can be instrumental in finding stolen vehicles. (Some cities, including D.C., now hand them out for free). Old-fashioned steering wheel lock bars are also effective. And anything that makes your car stand out to someone watching from a helicopter — a funky color, a roof decal, even reindeer antlers — is also wise. Police are increasingly using helicopters to track stolen vehicles instead of doing street-level chases.

I never thought it would happen to me. But if thieves are attempting to steal cars parked right outside police headquarters, imagine what they’re willing to do everywhere else.

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I remember feeling lucky when I found a parking spot across the street from police headquarters in D.C. It was a chilly Saturday night in December, and I was about to spend several hours observing the police in their fight against the capital’s biggest crime surge since the late 1990s. I parked by two police cruisers. It didn’t matter. Later that night, someone tried to break into my car.

The thief (or thieves) didn’t succeed, but they left plenty of marks on my Kia Soul. The person ripped off my rear windshield wiper. I later learned it’s a tactic in “Kia Boys” social media videos to tear the wipers off, because the hot wiring technique they use can mess up the car’s wiper control. My driver’s-side door now has a bunch of scratches where some sort of crowbar was used to try to get in. And the rear passenger-side window has numerous dents where it looks as if the person tried to attach a device to break open the window.

Editorial: We spent a night in a D.C. cop car. Here’s the truth about what we saw.

I was lucky. In a city that had nearly 1,000 carjackings last year and over 6,800 vehicle thefts (a more than 80 percent jump from 2022), I still have a drivable car. I was also lucky because I was in a D.C. police helicopter when this happened. We were flying over a different part of the city looking for a vehicle fleeing a crime scene. We were diverted to fly over police headquarters due to suspicious activity outside. Below, we could see officers patrolling the street. The helicopter flew around for awhile and beamed a spotlight down to deter anyone else contemplating a heist. No one was arrested, but I’m thankful I had only $250 in damage.

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to fix my car and reflect, I’m angry at the attempted thief — and at U.S. regulators. This crazy trend of teenagers stealing Kia and Hyundai cars is a uniquely American problem. It isn’t going on in Canada or Europe. Why not? By 2007, Canada, Australia and most other well-off nations required automakers to install an ignition immobilizer — a simple and inexpensive device that makes it difficult to start the car unless another chip device (normally attached to the key) is in the vehicle. In short, it’s an effective tool to keep people from stealing cars for a joyride. The United States still doesn’t require them.

Editorial: As carjackings spike, police need to be able to chase vehicles again

This helps explain why only about a quarter of Kias and Hyundais manufactured from 2011 to 2021 had immobilizers. Without the device, the vehicles can be stolen in less than a minute, using only a screwdriver and a USB cable. Insurance claims for thefts of vulnerable Kia and Hyundai models jumped 1,000 percent in the first half of 2023 compared with 2020, according to new data from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

“It’s a regulatory loophole. Obviously, the standard needs to be upgraded,” said Allan Kam, a former senior attorney at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

What’s especially aggravating is that the NHTSA reviewed this in 2016. Instead of requiring that all vehicles sold in the United States have immobilizers from then on, the agency made the bizarre decision to say that if an automaker puts an immobilizer in a vehicle, it has to meet standards similar to Canada’s. This twisted logic is why the NHTSA refused to force Kia and Hyundai to do a nationwide recall to fix the problem. A coalition of 17 state attorneys general, and the D.C. attorney general, begged the agency for a recall last year, but the NHTSA threw up its hands and said there’s no requirement for an immobilizer and the U.S. standard “does not contemplate actions taken by criminal actors.”

My Kia Soul actually has an immobilizer. It’s a newer model. But thieves can’t tell the difference (or they don’t care). Many of the carjackings in D.C. last year were committed by kids under 18. In most cases, these children are stealing cars for fun and TikTok fame.

Kia and Hyundai deserve some of the blame. The two auto companies have reached a preliminary $200 million settlement in a class-action case from car owners. But the consumers, who have been dealing with this since 2021, won’t receive any money until, at best, late this year. Kia and Hyundai are also offering a free update to help deter theft. But this isn’t enough. As criminals know, the companies haven’t fixed anywhere near the 8 million vehicles that came with this flaw.

There’s a reason the U.S. economy soared and others were mediocre

This problem isn’t fading away. Teens stealing vehicles are highly prone to crashes, including fatal crashes, which only adds to the tragedy and to safety concerns. This should be enough to trigger a recall.

After my own experience shadowing police for a night, I’m putting a tracking device in my car. A $30 tracker can be instrumental in finding stolen vehicles. (Some cities, including D.C., now hand them out for free). Old-fashioned steering wheel lock bars are also effective. And anything that makes your car stand out to someone watching from a helicopter — a funky color, a roof decal, even reindeer antlers — is also wise. Police are increasingly using helicopters to track stolen vehicles instead of doing street-level chases.

I never thought it would happen to me. But if thieves are attempting to steal cars parked right outside police headquarters, imagine what they’re willing to do everywhere else.

QOSHE - My car was almost stolen outside police headquarters. Blame U.S. regulators. - Heather Long
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My car was almost stolen outside police headquarters. Blame U.S. regulators.

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10.01.2024

Need something to talk about? Text us for thought-provoking opinions that can break any awkward silence.ArrowRight

The thief (or thieves) didn’t succeed, but they left plenty of marks on my Kia Soul. The person ripped off my rear windshield wiper. I later learned it’s a tactic in “Kia Boys” social media videos to tear the wipers off, because the hot wiring technique they use can mess up the car’s wiper control. My driver’s-side door now has a bunch of scratches where some sort of crowbar was used to try to get in. And the rear passenger-side window has numerous dents where it looks as if the person tried to attach a device to break open the window.

Editorial: We spent a night in a D.C. cop car. Here’s the truth about what we saw.

I was lucky. In a city that had nearly 1,000 carjackings last year and over 6,800 vehicle thefts (a more than 80 percent jump from 2022), I still have a drivable car. I was also lucky because I was in a D.C. police helicopter when this happened. We were flying over a different part of the city looking for a vehicle fleeing a crime scene. We were diverted to fly over police headquarters due to suspicious activity outside. Below, we could see officers patrolling the street. The helicopter flew around for awhile and beamed a spotlight down to deter anyone else contemplating a heist. No one was arrested, but I’m thankful I had only $250 in damage.

Advertisement

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to fix my car and reflect, I’m angry at the attempted thief — and at U.S. regulators. This crazy trend of teenagers stealing Kia and Hyundai cars is a uniquely American problem. It isn’t going on in Canada or Europe. Why not? By 2007, Canada, Australia and most other well-off nations required automakers to install an ignition immobilizer — a simple and inexpensive device that makes it difficult to start the car unless another chip device (normally attached to the key) is in the vehicle. In short, it’s an effective tool to keep people from stealing cars for a joyride. The United States still doesn’t require them.

Editorial: As carjackings spike, police need to be able to chase vehicles again

This helps explain why only about a quarter of Kias and Hyundais manufactured from 2011 to 2021 had immobilizers. Without the device, the vehicles can be stolen in less than a minute, using only a screwdriver and a USB cable. Insurance claims for thefts of vulnerable Kia and Hyundai models jumped 1,000 percent in the first half of 2023 compared with 2020, according to new data from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Follow this authorHeather Long's opinions

Follow

“It’s a regulatory loophole. Obviously, the standard needs to be upgraded,” said Allan Kam, a former senior attorney at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration........

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