When you’re sitting at a stoplight, does it ever cross your mind that the sedan in the next lane could be stolen? Or what about the two-year-old used car your friend just got a great deal on? It’s certainly possible.

Vehicle theft rates have been steadily dropping in the last few years and, according to the FBI’s preliminary statistics for the 2009 Uniform Crime Report, this trend will likely continue. While this is encouraging news, it does not tell the whole story of vehicle theft. While theft rates are dropping, recovery rates are, too. The FBI’s data shows that the recovery rate has dropped from 67 percent in 1999 to an all-time low of 57 percent in 2008. Thus, fewer vehicles are being stolen every year, but a greater percentage of those that do get lifted are not recovered.

The push in recent years against vehicle theft has undoubtedly helped lower the theft rate, and this has more than likely dissuaded the amateur thief from stealing a car — but not the professional. Amateur thieves are only occasional offenders and would account for the more spontaneous thefts where there is less planning and skill involved. These are often scenarios where a vehicle is stolen off the street for use during another crime or for joyriding and is then abandoned a short time later. These vehicles are generally recovered within a few days or weeks.

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