Call for access to data on stolen cars


THE FORMER HEAD of the Garda stolen-vehicle unit has called for information on car thefts to be made available to third parties in an attempt to protect people against buying stolen vehicles.

Car buyers currently cannot check if cars in which they are interested are among the 9,000 stolen each year.

Finbarr Garland, who retired last week from An Garda Síochána, says Ireland is one of only a handful of countries that did not place information about stolen vehicles on the Interpol database.

Garland says a second problem is that even if a police force in another country identifies a stolen Irish-registered vehicle, it will not seize it if the car is not on the Interpol list.

“If the data was on the Interpol list, you would see a higher rate of recovery and, as a result of the higher rate of recovery, a reduction in thefts. It is a no-brainer.

“The only way you know if it has been stolen is if a garda checks it, and a garda cannot give that information over the phone. There is no other way for the ordinary citizen, or a company like a garage, to access that information, to access a database of stolen vehicles in Ireland.”

Garland says the information exists, and he would like to see a daily file of stolen vehicles uploaded to the Department of Transport’s national vehicle file. “If the department had it then the likes of car-checking companies would have it and car buyers could check it.”

Garland says he has been recommending the release of such data for almost 15 years and that, ultimately, it is a question for the Garda commissioner.

An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner held talks on the release of stolen-vehicle data to third parties last year, and the commissioner said there were two issues: the Garda did not own the data, and the data could quickly become incorrect (for example, when a vehicle was recovered).

Garland says only nonpersonal data would be released: make, model, year, colour, chassis number, engine number and registration. “There is always going to be a problem with a car going on the list and then being recovered. But every other country in Europe has such a system. You just update the file each day and upload the new file to the Department of Transport database every 24 hours.”

There are challenges, he says, but he sees no reason why it cannot be done.

“There is no doubt if there was third-party access to the stolen-vehicle data there would be an awful lot of people who would not end up victims of buying a stolen vehicle.”

Jeff Ahern, director of the car-checking firm, says: “We have been calling for the release of stolen-vehicle data to third parties since 2002. It is ridiculous that Ireland is one of the few countries where it is not available.”

A Garda spokesman says the force complies fully with the Data Protection Act and that any “amended or proposed new legislation is a matter for the Oireachtas”.

Garland says the pattern of thefts has changed since he joined the stolen-vehicle unit, in 1982. Then, almost 18,000 cars a year were stolen, and new security features, particularly immobilisers, have seen that rate fall.

Being an island nation with left-hand drive, the rate of thefts in the Republic is lower than European norms.

Garland says an emerging trend is for car thieves to break up a stolen vehicle and sell the parts. A second trend is “thefts to order”.

“In the past year we found, or recovered, an awful lot more parts than whole vehicles, which means there is a huge market for parts. That is down to the recession. Once a car is stripped down, it is very hard to identify the parts.

“I would say that up to July around 1,200 thefts were ‘steal to order’, where the thieves broke into a house to get the keys.

“They are stealing VW Passats, Golfs, BMWs, Skoda Octavias, Ford Mondeos – those would be the main ones.”

Garland says there is also an issue around number-plate cloning. “The only way to deal with cloning is to check the VIN [vehicle identification number] on the windscreen and also the chassis number. Sometimes thieves will change the windscreen VIN number but not the chassis number.”

Five ways to avoid buying a stolen car

* Meet the seller at his or her house, not at a hotel or shopping centre

* Do not pay cash. Try to lodge the payment to a personal account

* Bring someone to inspect the car who can find a chassis number

* Be suspicious if there is only one key

* Check if vehicle registration documents are genuine

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