Criminal Law

Motor Vehicle Theft

  • Autos
  • Trucks and Buses
  • Other Vehicles

Definition: The theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle.

Motor Vehicle Theft includes the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle, which the UCR Program defines as a self-propelled vehicle that runs on land surface and not on rails; for example, sport utility vehicles, automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor scooters, all-terrain vehicles, and snowmobiles are classified as motor vehicles. This category does not include farm equipment, bulldozers, airplanes, construction equipment, or water craft (motorboats, sailboats, houseboats, or jet skis). Taking a vehicle for temporary use when prior authority has been granted or can be assumed such as in family situations, rental car agreements, or unauthorized use by chauffeurs and others having lawful access to the vehicle must not be classified as motor vehicle thefts.

Reporting agencies must classify as Motor Vehicle Theft all cases where automobiles are taken by persons not having lawful access even though the vehicles are later abandoned. They should include joyriding in this category. If a vehicle is stolen in conjunction with another offense, the reporting agency must classify the crimes using the procedures for classifying multiple offenses (see page 10).

Motor Vehicle Theft—Autos

The category Motor Vehicle Theft—Autos (7a) includes the thefts of all sedans, station wagons, coupes, convertibles, sport utility vehicles, minivans, and other similar motor vehicles that serve the primary purpose of transporting people from one place to another. Automobiles used as taxis are also included. Some states allow a station wagon to be registered as a truck; however, licensing is not a determining factor. The UCR Program stipulates that a station wagon must be classified as an automobile.

The following scenarios illustrate incidents known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Motor Vehicle Theft—Autos (7a):

  1. A juvenile took a sport utility vehicle from in front of the owner's residence. Approximately 3 hours later, the police found the vehicle on the other side of town, abandoned and out of gas. The juvenile was not apprehended.
  2. An owner awoke to find his car several parking spaces north of where it had been parked the previous night. There was no damage. The vehicle had not been hot wired. The owner noticed that the gas tank was empty. He notified the police.
  3. A woman stopped at a mailbox and left her minivan running while she got out to mail a letter. A 14-year-old boy jumped into the vehicle and drove away. The police recovered the auto 2 hours later, wrecked against a tree. They arrested the boy.
  4. A taxi was stolen from a parking lot. The police recovered it in another city.

Motor Vehicle Theft—Trucks and Buses

The category Motor Vehicle Theft—Trucks and Buses (7b) includes the theft of those vehicles specifically designed (but not necessarily used) to commercially transport people and cargo. Pickup trucks and cargo vans, regardless of their use, are included in this category. The UCR Program considers a self-propelled motor home to be a truck.

The following scenarios illustrate incidents known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Motor Vehicle Theft—Trucks and Buses (7b):

  1. A self-propelled motor home was stolen from the driveway of a citizen's residence. The police later found the vehicle stripped of all removable parts.
  2. Three 16-year-old students drove their school bus from the school's property to a local shopping center to buy concert tickets. They had no permission to use the bus. Even though no charges were filed against the youths, all three were summoned to appear before the juvenile court.

Motor Vehicle Theft—Other Vehicles

The category Motor Vehicle Theft—Other Vehicles (7c) includes all other motor vehicles that meet the UCR definition such as snowmobiles, motorcycles, motor scooters, trail bikes, mopeds, golf carts, all-terrain vehicles, and motorized wheelchairs. Obviously, all situations cannot be covered, so the classifier's decision must be based on UCR standards and the results of law enforcement investigation.

The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies must classify as Motor Vehicle Theft—Other Vehicles (7c):

  1. A winter retreat lodge in a mountain area had numerous snowmobiles for the use of its guests. During the night, three of these vehicles were stolen.