Compulsory car immobilisers plan is attacked

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The Independent Online
PLANS TO force owners of older cars to fit anti-theft devices were condemned as a "tax on the poor" by motoring organisa- tions yesterday. The storm erupted as Jack Straw visited Leicester to unveil the Government's plan to cut car crime by 30 per cent.

"I have had a car stolen. I have had a car broken into on two occasions - it's very, very disruptive for people... it's dreadful," said the Home Secretary. He insisted that those who had not suffered car theft - a problem that accounts for 24 per cent of all crime in England and Wales in 1997 - were in a "luxurious position".

Mr Straw welcomed a 14-point plan drawn up by the Vehicle Crime Reduction Action Team, set up last September to tackle the pounds 3bn problem, but insisted that no decisions would be taken without public consultation. However, motoring groups were quick to attack the idea that electronic immobilisers should become an MoT requirement, insisting that low-income drivers should not be forced to invest between pounds 75 and pounds 300 on a device now standard on newer cars.

Most strikingly, dissent came from within the Action Team's ranks as the AA, one of the members of the advisory panel, insisted it would hit "older people and the poor".

As the Government expressed "surprise" at the organisation's open disagreement, the AA said that it had previously written to the Home Office outlining the pitfalls of such a move. Its worries were echoed by other groups including the RAC Consumers' Association.

"We have serious concerns about it," said Andrew Howard, AA head of road safety. He added: "Contrary to what may have been said by the Secretary of State, we raised our disquiet at the time, and we wrote to the Home Office.

"It is going to hit owners of old cars, such as old people and those without money. There is also the issue of retrospective legislation - someone who bought a perfectly legal car finding out that it is now illegal."

Despite a recent What Car? survey, which showed that immobilisers on almost one-third of new cars tested could be overridden in less than five minutes, Mr Howard approved of the device credited with cutting car crime by 25 per cent in the past five years.

"They are a darn sight better than nothing. The psychological make-up of the thief is such that he doesn't want to be seen. If he thinks that his crime will take five seconds longer, he is likely to move on to another car." However, he insisted the Government should foot the bill, by reducing a motorist's road tax once an immobiliser receipt is produced.

Dominique Allport, senior researcher for the Consumers' Association, pointed out that immobilisers would not tackle the bigger problem of theft from cars. The windows, he pointed out, were the obvious weak point - a matter tackled by the Action Team in its 14-point plan, by proposing better glazing and improved locks as part of its security measures.

Experts, however, differed on this point with some insisting that tougher glass would cause problems for drivers trapped in vehicles after accidents. Others said that, shattering windows posed a greater danger than the possibility of being trapped.

A Home Office spokesman said yesterday: "At the end of the day we are looking to promote the motorist's interests and balance it with the extra burden. Clearly we don't want to burden them if we can help it."

The Action Team, made up of representatives from motoring organisations, the police and Government, said the requirement should cover cars registered between 1991 and 1994. Other measures proposed by the body, and welcomed by motoring groups, included: improved car park security (where 22 per cent of vehicle crime takes place), focusing on crime "hotspots", and regulating the salvage industry to stop stolen vehicles being given the identity of legitimate cars.

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