“Dude, Where’s My Car?”

Car theft, in the era of driverless cars, should nearly be eliminated.

Ever had your car stolen?

I have. A terrible moment.

You walk outside, key in hand, expecting to get into your car. You get to the place where your car is supposed to be. That place is empty. Or another car is there. You rack your brain.

“Maybe I parked it somewhere else?”

You investigate other possibilities. Nope. Your car isn’t there, either.

Slowly, painfully, it dawns on you that your car might have been stolen. But, you still don’t want to believe it. Half your brain is seeking an alternative explanation.

“Did I forget to lock the thing? Was it towed?”

The other half is getting sick. It feels like a punch in the stomach.

“Ouch! I’ve been violated.”

Confusion, anger, sadness and regret all rush to the front of your emotional cortex. And then, painful acceptance. “My car’s been stolen!”

Whaaat??

Or perhaps, like Aston Kutcher, in Dude, Where’s My Car, you’re hung over. You can’t remember much about last night. Certainly, not where you left your car. No idea. You recall having it at 8 PM when you picked up Chester. And those gifts for Wilma and Wanda. But, can’t remember much since then. Now what?

Possibly, you’re like Kramer. You parked in a New Jersey mall parking lot, but don’t remember the floor, section or location. They all look alike. Is it here? Nope. Wait, maybe on the next level. Nope, not there either. Jerry, George and Elaine aren’t much help.  Ummm….

Soon, One Less Problem to Worry About

Well, in the world of driverless cars this should – we hope – be one less problem to worry about. Your vehicle will be connected to the web. You’ll be able to contact it and tell it to drive itself home. Push a few buttons on the keypad, and – like a faithful dog – it will return to its owner. As long as you keep enough gas in the tank. (Or charge the battery).

The scale of this solution is powerful. Each year, more than 500,000 cars and trucks are stolen in the U.S. Along with 200,000 other vehicles (motorcycles, snow mobiles, segways?). That’s one vehicle stolen every 45 seconds. (The Honda Accord is snatched the most: 54,000 are stolen each year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.)

Well, maybe.

Think of car thieves as insects and solutions for it like insecticide. The insects are the problem, solved by insecticide. Until the insects mutate and develop a strain that resists that insecticide. Which necessitates more powerful insecticide. One that kills those mutated insects. Until, they morph again, and become resistant to the newer strain. Which means…. well, you get the idea.

Related: To Err is human

Car Theft Through the Ages

Here’s how it went:

Cars first came into our lives in the 1880s. Those were cranked by hand. You could take the steering wheel with you, so theft wasn’t really a problem.

Charles Kettering patented the self-starter ignition in 1915. It saw its first use by a Cadillac soon thereafter. Well, self-starters are annoyingly indiscriminate; they fire up for anyone. It made cars ripe to be picked off. Which is why Congress passed the Dyer Act in 1919, making car theft across state lines a crime.

That didn’t help much. Car theft climbed during the 1920s. To combat the problem, mechanical locking car doors were invented during that decade. In 1935, GM invented the six-cut sidebar lock, a breakthrough in security.

Unfortunately, the Slim Jim also came into use around that time. It slides down the door, in the space between window and frame. It acts directly on the levers and interconnecting rods that operate the door, completely avoiding the complexity of the lock mechanism itself. Once open, the car can be hot-wired, started and driven away. An easy way to circumvent GM’s state-of-the-art lock.

And so, despite locking doors, car theft continued to rise. VIN numbers in the 1950s allowed for easy identification of stolen vehicles (and other things). They were needed. By 1960, thieves nabbed over 328,000 vehicles.

The insects were getting stronger than the insecticide. And continued to mutate. Car theft kept climbing annually, reaching its peak in 1991 when 1.6 million vehicles were stolen.

Technological innovations in the 1990’s started to bring down the problem – smart keys, anti-theft devices, car alarms, surveillance cameras, the Club and others. Thieves could no longer hot-wire cars with these devices. The results were impressive: A decline in the number of car thefts every year since 1991, despite regular increases in the number of vehicles on the road.

And, yet, the problem isn’t completely solved. Over 700,000 cars are jacked each year.

Car Theft in the Future

The bet: Connected, driverless cars will solve for most of that theft. Remote-controlled cars emit signals picked up by law enforcement. Or even the average citizen. (It’s the reason for the popularity of the Tile Key Finder). Cars will no longer be able to fade into the woodwork; they’ll all have fingerprints. And, as owners, we’ll simply tap our phones and summon our wayward vehicle back.

ET, come home! (electronic transmission, that is).

At least, until those damn insects figure out a better way to steal. Perhaps, given the incredible progress we’ve made since 1991, they won’t.

Except, of course, if you leave your smart phone in car. Stupidity beats technology every time.

Article written by: Charles Bogle 3.0.  Submitted: 3/24/17

Comments & thoughts to: cb@dryve.com

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