New figures show that nearly a quarter of a million UK vehicles were broken into in 2016 – an increase of 4 per cent on the year previous.
A total of 239,920 car break-ins were reported to 42 police forces in 2016 – 8,698 more than in 2015.
The RAC said this is most likely down to forgetful and unassuming motorists leaving smartphones and sat navs in their cars in clear sight of thieves.
Not so smart: RAC Insurance said a 4% rise in thefts from vehicles in 2016 was due to drivers leaving their gadgets in cars
Despite the year-on-year increase, figures for car crime in 2016 were 9 per cent lower than they were five years ago with 263,574 vehicle break-ins reported to police, a Freedom of Information request by RAC Insurance revealed.
Of the 26 forces that posted increases, Northamptonshire police had the second most significant percentage leap in thefts from vehicles, with a 41 per cent rise from 2,864 instances in 2015 to 4,043 12 months later.
City of London constabulary saw the biggest rise in thefts from vehicles, though the a 76 per cent increase only accounted for a total of 81 individual cases (up from 46 in 2015).
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There were more substantial increases elsewhere, with Wiltshire police and Dyfed-Powys both reporting surges in the region of 23 per cent, with 2,074 and 549 reports of break-ins respectively.
Of the 15 forces that recorded reductions in thefts from vehicles from 2015 to 2016 Cheshire constabulary saw the largest fall in such crimes with 19 per cent fewer cases (2,827 to 2,284).
Cumbria police’s figures for the offence also dropped by 11 per cent (780 to 697) and North Wales police’s by 10 per cent (1,326 to 1,187).
Motorists are forgetting to remove their sat navs from cradles on the windscreen, making them easy targets for criminals
Of the 42 forces contacted, 26 said they had seen a rise in reported car break-ins between 2015 and 2016
RAC Insurance director Mark Godfrey said it was ‘very worrying’ that more than half of the nation’s police forces reported increases in this type of crime and put the rises down to ‘opportunistic’ thieves with a keen eye for gadgets.
‘A lot of people breaking into vehicles will be opportunist, with thieves looking for items that they can sell on easily,’ he said.
‘It’s also possible that drivers have become more complacent about what items they leave on display, perhaps believing items like sat navs are now so commonplace they’re not of interest to thieves.’
He added: ‘And with lots of drivers using their smartphones as sat navs there is a higher probability of accidentally leaving a phone in a cradle and giving a thief a great opportunity to profit.
‘The fact remains that every time a driver leaves a valuable item clearly on display they are running the risk of becoming a car crime victim.’
Mr Godfrey also said that alarms no longer functioned as a deterrent to thieves who are happy to run the risk of the alerts being ignored by passersby.
‘Some may believe the fact a vehicle is alarmed makes it safe, but unfortunately this is not the case as very few people respond to the sound of a car alarm, perhaps because so many seem to go off for no apparent reason which in itself can be a tactic used by thieves,’ he said.