After reviewing provisions of Federal laws that require motor vehicle manufacturers to provide distinctive labels for a specified vehicle's parts as an anti-theft measure, this article reports on a study that determined whether these laws are having their intended effect, i.e., reduction in vehicle thefts.
A series of Federal laws, most recently the Anti-Car Theft Act, have progressively expanded the vehicle models whose parts must be distinctively labeled in order to deter vehicle thefts and/or facilitate the matching of stolen parts to particular stolen vehicles. As mandated in the most recent of these laws, a study was conducted to determine whether anti-theft part labels have substantially reduced automobile thefts. Telephone interviews with auto-theft investigators in 47 jurisdictions nationwide found that 75 percent of the 40 investigators interviewed believe that the anti-theft labels aid officers in arresting individuals who steal or sell stolen parts and vehicles. The majority of the investigators also believed that anti-theft parts labeling have increased the rate of convictions due to the ability of prosecutors to provide evidence that particular parts in the possession of the defendant can be matched to a stolen vehicle. The investigators were divided, however, about whether anti-theft labels deter auto theft. Regarding obstacles to the effective use of auto parts labels, the investigators reported that the ease of removing parts labels is the most serious obstacle to identifying the vehicle's owners and proving the parts were stolen. Among investigators' recommendations for improving anti-theft legislation is to stamp VINs on the component parts instead of using labels for each part. Another recommendation is that manufacturers develop technology that will leave a footprint with the actual VIN in the event the label is removed. Improved law enforcement training in the use of the anti-theft legislation is also recommended. 2 figures and 8 notes