How technology got us into this car-theft mess – and how it can help get us out of it

It was an advance in technology that stopped many thieves stealing cars from our streets – with the unwanted consequence of pushing the thieves into houses to steal car keys. But as Greg Hallam writes, there’s an equally effective means of stopping those stolen cars on the spot.

Feb 21, 2024, updated Feb 21, 2024
'Ben' has been in and out of juvenile detention for car theft and vandalism. Photo: ABC

'Ben' has been in and out of juvenile detention for car theft and vandalism. Photo: ABC

It’s axiomatic that the current spate of murders and home invasions related to car theft has many of us cogitating on possible solutions to the blight on society.

A great mate and person of vast public policy experience and with real perspicacity recently raised with me the use of technology as a possible solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

According to a recent Budget Direct survey, car theft in Queensland has skyrocketed by 25% in the past few years.

This isn’t a media beat-up. The very recent murder of grandmother Vyleen White in front of her granddaughter at the Redbank Plaza shopping centre, means the fear in the community is palpable, especially amongst the aged.

There is a genuine need for stricter bail conditions and mandatory wearing of tracking bracelets by young offenders as necessary first steps to solve the problem.

But history has taught us that the “ hang ’em high” approach with concomitant record levels of incarceration will not solve deep societal problems – leading to the creation of sub-cultures and wanton criminal activities by a small percentage of youth.

Innovative solutions need to be found beyond those measures.

The single biggest improvement to vehicle security this century has been the mandatory fitting of immobilisers since 2001. It positively impacted the level of car theft .

Smart locks beat the crooks for a good while. Perversely, over time it has driven criminals to home invasions or armed robberies in car parks to secure car keys to start vehicles.

It’s now a sad fact that seven out of 10 car thefts are as a consequence of the stealing of car keys , one way or another.

Research points to the fact remote external immobilisation (REI) of vehicles is possible if they are fitted with the right technology . A report following the tragic death of Queensland Police Constable Peter McAulay found if mandated by the Federal Government, it would take 16 years to cover 80% of the Australian vehicle fleet with REI.

Importantly, the high-value cars, the most favoured theft targets, would see an immediate reduction in theft.

In other words, we wouldn’t be waiting 16 years for a result .

The Queensland Government currently has a $10m Engine Immobiliser Trial underway in Townsville, Cairns and Mt Isa. The study commenced last December and is due to report by June 30 this year.There are no interim findings, given the trial is just two months old.

External immobilisation of stolen vehicles by the Police Service is a tricky but executable task. Put simply, for obvious safety reasons, vehicles can’t be stopped on the spot.


But a soon as a car stops, whether it’s at traffic lights or traffic signs, they can be immobilised.

As the McAulay investigation found, there are some unique challenges to rolling the remote immobilisation technology out in Australia.

Most noticeably, the fact there is no single REI technology in the world and police would have to administer potentially multiple technologies.

Equally, all new vehicles are manufactured overseas. Problems to solve, rather than insurmountable hurdles to a gradual roll-out with all newly imported vehicles in Australia.

Over history state and federal governments (Attorneys-General) have moved in concert to pass mirror complementary legislation. This is such a case.

Just think about the Eshay group’s posts on FB or Instagram of them all in an immobilised vehicle, on the side of the road – sure to impress their friends.

The only donuts they would be seeing is in Crispy Kreme stores.

Let’s be smart and enact state and federal legislation that requires all new vehicles entering Australia to be fitted with a singular REI technology.


Local News Matters

We strive to deliver the best local independent coverage of the issues that matter to Queenslanders.

Copyright © 2024 InQueensland.
All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy