What are the most common car crimes in the UK? And where do they occur the most?
Car ownership can sometimes be a double-edged sword which, while offering you immense freedom to travel wherever and whenever and you want, can sometimes see you falling foul of the law, or even being targeted by criminals yourself.
Like most other countries, the UK has a long list of laws surrounding the use and ownership of vehicles which are designed to protect you and other road users. The requirement for all cars to be equipped with seat belts, and for the driver and all passengers to be wearing one, is one such example that has saved countless lives over the years.
There are many other laws designed to protect all road users, such as the requirement to have some form of car insurance. Third party insurance is the basic level of cover that all drivers need to have as it protects other road users in the event of a collision. However, there is a wide range of insurance options available to meet the individual needs of different road users, such as temporary car insurance for learners and infrequent drivers.
However, despite such laws being implemented to make the roads a safer place for everyone, many road users neglect to observe every rule of the road. This means that each year there are thousands of motorists who receive punishments that range from fines and mandated driver awareness courses, to driving bans and even prison sentences.
Owning a car can also make you a target for opportunistic criminals, who could attempt to damage, steal or break into your vehicle. Thankfully there are many ways you can protect against this such as upgrading your car’s security features or buying comprehensive car insurance.
With so many crimes associated with vehicles, from the accidental to the downright nefarious, we wanted to explore which of these are the most common in the UK. We’ve trawled through the data to identify the top car crimes in the country, as well as where each individual crime is most prevalent.
The most common car crimes in the UK
Here we can see some of the most common vehicle crimes that occur in the UK. We’ve combined data from all regions of England and Wales to provide a national total for each type of crime, and have ranked them from most common to the least.
1. Speed limit offences
National Total: 1,873,238
Speed limit offences are the most common car crime in the UK, with just over 1.87 million recorded instances in 2020 alone. Speed limits are a vital part of road safety strategy, ensuring that drivers only go as fast as is considered safe for each stretch of road. These limits have prevented an untold number of accidents and saved countless lives, so should not be taken lightly.
2. Theft from a vehicle
National Total: 192,824
The second most common car crime is theft from a vehicle, with 192,824 recorded offences. This refers to any time a theft has been committed where the thief has stolen items that were left in the vehicle. These thefts are often unplanned, as the opportunistic thief might spot something of value on the back seat of the car and attempt to steal it, so you should always keep any valuables out of view if you need to leave them in your vehicle.
3. Criminal damage to a vehicle
National Total: 158,041
The third most common car crime is criminal damage to a vehicle, with 158,041 recorded crimes. This offence refers to when someone knowingly causes damage to another person’s vehicle, such as scratching the paint or breaking a window. This damage is often caused in response to arguments between the owner and the offender, as an act of mindless vandalism, or is done during an attempted robbery.
The parts of the country where each car crime is most common
Having looked at the most common car crimes across the country, we now focus in on the UK’s hotspots for each type of car crime.
Speed limit offences
As previously mentioned, speed limit laws were introduced to reduce the risk of injury and death to motorists, other road users and pedestrians by ensuring that people only drive as fast as the road safely allows. While not all speed limit offences are intentional, an accidental offence still indicates a level of unawareness in the driver that could be dangerous to other road users.
Lincolnshire – Offences per 100,000: 13,420.07
Lincolnshire is the UK’s speeding hotspot having recorded the highest per capita rate of speed limit offences in the country, with 13,420.07 offences per 100,000 people. This rate is significantly higher than any other part of the UK, with second place Norfolk recording a rate of 8832.18 offences per 100,000 people.
Theft from a vehicle
Theft from a vehicle can happen to anyone, though it is more likely to befall car owners who park their vehicle in public places that are quiet and not monitored by security or CCTV.
London – Offenses per 100,000: 687.51
London has the highest rate of thefts from cars of anywhere in the UK, with 687.51 offenses recorded per 100,000 people. This is over 50% higher than second place Greater Manchester which recorded a a rate of 447.85 offences per 100,000 people, so you should definitely try to avoid leaving valuables in your cark if parking it in the capital.
Criminal damage to a vehicle
It’s never pleasant to find that someone has treated your possessions with utter disregard for you, their owner, but unfortunately criminal damage to vehicles is the third most common car crime in the UK. While comprehensive car insurance should cover any criminal damage done to your vehicle, this crime can leave victims enraged, upset and nervous of the area where they left their car.
Cleveland – Offenses per 100,000: 430.33
Cleveland, a historical county in the North East of England that encompasses the towns of Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, and Redcar and Cleveland, has the highest rate of criminal damage to vehicles in the country, with 430.33 offences per 100,000 people.
Theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle
The theft of a vehicle is a serious offence that can cause distress, inconvenience and financial loss to victims. Comprehensive cover should protect you from much of this cost, but claiming on your insurance will likely increase your premiums, meaning the victim will still bear some additional expense. Car theft in the UK can lead to a 6 month jail sentence and £5,000 fine.
London – Offenses per 100,000: 277.55
London is the UK’s car theft hotspot with the highest rate of theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle at 277.55 offenses per 100,000 people. Only two other areas, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, also had rates above 200, which were 222.95 and 217.18 offences per 100,000 people respectively.
Vehicle insurance offences
It is a legal requirement in the UK for all vehicles to have a basic level of insurance so that other road users are protected in the event of an accident. Driving without insurance will land you with a £300 fine and 6 points on your licence, though if the case goes to court you could get an unlimited fine and be outright disqualified from driving.
Norfolk – Offenses per 100,000: 292.23
Norfolk has the highest rate of vehicle insurance offences in the country at 292.23 per 100,000 people. Other places to score highly were Humberside, which recorded a rate of 262.41 per 100,000 people, and Leicestershire, where the rate is 228.42 per 100,000.
Neglect of traffic directions
Traffic directions, such as road signs and traffic lights, are an important aspect of our road system that ensures all drivers are safe and traffic flows smoothly. Neglecting these directions can put other road users and pedestrians in danger, and can lead to an uneccessary build-up of traffic.
Surrey – Offenses per 100,000: 416.28
Surrey has the highest rate of neglect of traffic directions in the country at 416.28 offences per 100,000 people. This is considerably higher than any other part of the country, as second place South Yorkshire recorded a rate of just 266.55.
Interfering with a motor vehicle
Interfering with a motor vehicle refers to when someone is found to be tampering with a car, a part of a car, or its contents, with the intention of theft. This crime carries a potential prison sentence of up to three months, and is the seventh most common car crime in the UK.
London – Offenses per 100,000: 151.06
London has the highest rate of interference with motor vehicles in the country, with 151.06 offences recorded per 100,000 people. Not far behind in second place is Bedfordshire with a rate of 144.51 per 100,000 people, while South Yorkshire follows in third place with a rate of 134.83 per 100,000.
Seat belt offences
The seat belt is possibly the most game-changing safety feature in motor vehicle history, which has saved thousands of lives since it was made a legal requirement in the UK in 1983. Wearing a seat belt protects everyone in the vehicle, as if you’re not strapped in when an accident takes place you can could make serious contact with other pasengers. If you’re found not to be wearing a seat belt when you should be you may be fined up to £500.
Essex – Offenses per 100,000: 286.57
Essex has the highest rate of seat belt offences in the country with 286.57 recorded cases per 100,000 people. Second place Northamptonshire recorded a rate of 251.06 cases per 100,00 people, while North Yorkshire takes third place with a rate of 211.16 per 100,000. All other areas saw rates of seat belt offences below the 200 mark.
Positive or refused breath tests
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is incredibly dangerous and carries serious consequences if you’re found guilty including a prison sentence, a hefty fine and a driving ban. Breath tests are the primary means of assessing whether someone is over the legal alcohol limit, with a positive or refused test being taken as evidence of a crime committed.
Gloucestershire – Offenses per 100,000: 303.26
Gloucestershire is the UK’s top area for drivers failing or refusing breath tests, with 303.26 instances per 100,000 people. This is closely followed by Cambridgeshire, which saw a rate of 289.37 cases per 100,000. However, these two areas are far ahead of anywhere else in the country, as third place North Wales recorded only 146.86 instances per 100,000 people, around half as many as in our top two areas.
Careless driving (excluding mobile phones)
Careless driving is when the person in control of a motor vehicle exhibits behaviour below the minimum standard expected of a careful driver, including driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. This is a less serious offence than dangerous driving and will not leave you with a criminal record, though a conviction will see you receive a fine and three points on your licence.
Essex – Offenses per 100,000: 185.17
The UK’s careless driving hotspot is Essex, where the rate of offences is 185.17 per 100,000 people. This is considerably higher than anywhere else in the country, with second place Cheshire the only other area with a rate above 100, having recorded 126.68 offences per 100,000 people.
Vehicle test offences
Over time, your vehicle will experience wear and tear and may some parts may become faulty, which can put yourself and other road users in danger. To address this, every vehicle needs a yearly MOT test to make sure that it is up to snuff. Driving without an MOT test is an offence, as it means that your car could have any number of defects, such as faulty breaks, a leaky engine, or worn-out tyres.
Norfolk – Offenses per 100,000: 156.89
Norfolk has the highest rate of vehicle test offences in the country, with 156.89 offences per 100,000 people. This is followed by Merseyside on 130.66 offences per 100,00, and Humberside with a rate of 129.49 per 100,000. All other areas have a rate below 100, though Lancashire is barely within this rate with 99.57 offences per 100,000.
Driving licence-related offences
To drive a car on UK roads you need to have a valid driving licence. This is proof that you know how to safely operate a vehicle and observe traffic laws. Learners are able to drive using a provisional driving licence, but only so long as they are accompanied by another individual who has had their own full driving licence for several years. Driving without a licence is a serious offence that can result in up to six penalty points and a fine of up to £5,000.
Humberside – Offenses per 100,000: 102.20
Humberside is the UK hotspot for driving licence-related offences, with 102.20 instances recorded per 100,000 people. This is closely followed by London where the rate is 93.66 offences per 100,000, while Bedfordshire takes third place with a rate of 83.98.
Obstruction, waiting and parking offences
It is illegal to park or leave your car in certain places as this can cause obstruction to traffic and pedestrians, as well as blocking access to sites. Parts of the road where parking is not permitted should be clearly marked, often with double yellow lines. It is also an offence to obstruct pedestrians, such as by mounting the curb with your vehicle and blocking a walkway.
Thames Valley – Offenses per 100,000: 144.21
Thames Valley has the highest rate of obstruction, waiting and parking offences in the UK with 144.21 offences per 100,000 people. Other high-scoring areas include Cambridgeshire and Cumbria, which saw rates of 124.68 and 124.05 per 100,000 respectively.
Vehicle registration and excise licence offences
Vehicles that use public roads need to be properly taxed and registered. This tax is what helps to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the UK’s road network, so it’s important that drivers contribute where applicable.
Norfolk – Offenses per 100,000: 125.27
Norfolk has the highest rate of vehicle registration and excise licence offenses in the country, with 125.27 offences per 100,000 people. This is the only area in the UK where the rate is above 100, as Humberside has the second-highest rate of 88.51 offences per 100,000 people.
Use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving
It is illegal to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving in the UK. This is because mobile phones divert drivers’ attention away from the road, and can often lead to collisions. As it can put other road users at risk of serious injury or even death, this seemingly innocent act carries a fine of £200 and will add six points to your licence.
Cumbria – Offenses per 100,000: 80.03
Cumbria has the highest rate of mobile phone use while driving, with 80.03 offences recorded per 100,000 people. This is followed by Merseyside, where the rate is 72.02 offences per 100,000. All other areas have much lower rates, all below 60 offences per 100,000.
Vehicle or part in dangerous or defective condition
It’s important to make sure that your vehicle and all its parts are in full working order before taking to the roads. A defective vehicle could be unsafe to drive, putting you and other road users in danger. Depending on the fault, you could receive a fine and three points on your licence for each faulty component, such as a bald tyre or broken headlight.
Norfolk – Offenses per 100,000: 78.88
Norfolk has the highest rate of offences for vehicles being in a dangerous or defective condition, with 78.88 offences recorded per 100,000 people. This is followed by London and West Yorkshire, with rates of 66.74 and 58.80 per 100,000 respectively.
Neglect of pedestrian rights
As a road user, you have a responsibility to not obstruct or endanger pedestrians by your actions. Neglect of pedestrian rights refers to instances where you may have made life more difficult for pedestrians, such as driving elsewhere than on the road or blocking pedestrian crossings.
West Yorkshire – Offenses per 100,000: 32.58
West Yorkshire is the worst place in the UK for the neglecting of pedestrian rights, with 32.58 offences recorded per 100,000 people. Wiltshire took second place with a rate of 23.80 offences per 100,000, while Merseyside came third with a rate of 18.34.
Dangerous driving refers to behaviour that could potentially endanger yourself or others on the road. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, you could receive a prison sentence of several years, a hefty fine, and a driving ban with the need to retake your test.
West Yorkshire – Offenses per 100,000: 42.30
West Yorkshire is the UK’s dangerous driving hotspot with a rate of 42.30 offences per 100,000 people. This is approximately twice the rate of any other area, as Greater Manchester has the second highest rate of 21.98 offences per 100,000 people.
Aggravated vehicle taking
Aggravated vehicle taking differs from regular car theft as it involves injury to a person or damage to the vehicle as a result of dangerous driving. This offence could land you up to two years in prison.
West Yorkshire – Offenses per 100,000: 14.54
West Yorkshire is the top place in the country for aggravated vehicle taking, with a rate of 14.54 offences per 100,000. This is followed by Greater Manchester which took second place with a rate of 14.04 offences per 100,000, while Kent came third with a rate of 13.86.
Causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving
Causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving is an extremely serious offence and can result in a prison sentence of up to fourteen years, though the government is planning to increase this upper limit to life imprisonment.
Cambridgeshire – Offenses per 100,000: 4.30
Cambridgeshire is the top area in the UK for incidents of death or serious injury caused by dangerous driving, with a rate of 4.30 offences per 100,000 people. Cumbria takes second place with a rate of 3.20 offences per 100,000, while North Yorkshire comes third with a rate of 2.41.
We wanted to identify the most common car crimes in the UK, as well as finding out where in the UK each crime is most commonly committed. To do this, we used government data for motoring offences and breath test statistics for the 2020 calendar year, and additional crime figures for the 2020/21 financial year.
We extracted data relevent to vehicles and car ownership, and calculated the number of each offence per 100,000 people in each police area. For London, we combined the figures for the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police. There was also not a complete set of available data for breath test statistic for the London area, so it was excluded from the figures for that metric.