You’re not going to like this.

I broached a wildly unpopular idea this week on our radio show in reaction to the lame "get tough" on auto theft plans announced by Gov. Murphy. I’ll tell you his ideas before mine.

He wants to create a habitual auto theft offender statute that would give prosecutors the option to seek more serious penalties for those repeatedly found guilty of stealing cars. You mean we’re not already doing that? The governor just admitted he hasn’t been as tough on career car thieves as he could have been. Great.

Car thief, car theft

He also wants criminal penalties for the failure to comply with guidelines in the sale and purchase of catalytic converters in the state.

I have news for Phil. Scrapyards are well aware what’s going on when catalytic converters come in sawed off from cars. If they haven’t been worried about being complicit in this crime I doubt they’re going to worry about new laws.

Speaking of complicit, now my idea.

While this is a very tough sell, it might be time we called out irresponsible car owners who are complicit in the theft of their own property. By far the number one way cars are now being stolen is owners are leaving them unlocked and with key fobs left inside. It serves as an open invitation for auto thieves even if not intended.

Car keys left in a lock

When any given New Jersey town has a rash of car thefts police invariably issue stern warnings to residents about leaving their vehicles vulnerable. Police departments statewide are fed up. So are insurance companies.

Auto theft has skyrocketed in recent years. With so much of it preventable is it unreasonable to consider the owners complicit in the crime?

Let’s compare it to the assignment of blame for traffic accidents. We hear it all the time, driver one was 80% at fault and driver two 20%. While not your intention you are guilty of contributory negligence.

Since owners aren’t getting it through their thick heads leaving automobiles unlocked with key fobs in the console is a foolish risk, maybe it’s time we allowed insurers to deny payments for such recklessness. Or at least reduce payments.

That goes to the heart of the principle of contributory negligence in other legal matters. This should obviously be in addition to the strongest possible punishments for the actual criminals.

Now one can argue foolishness is almost always in play in any car insurance claim. The driver who daydreamed their way through a stop sign or the person who pushed their luck on a yellow light. But while foolishness is at the heart of almost all insurance claims, in the case of leaving your car wide open for thieves it’s a behavior that is often habitual and not some random bad moment.

car insurance application form with car model and key remote on desk.

If denial or reduction of coverage doesn’t work what about a punitive 8-week delay in payment? Something, anything to stem this tide of irresponsibility. Again, it’s by far the most common way cars are being stolen. When it happens this way, owners are complicit.

Or, we can do nothing. We can remain soft on criminals and also soft on irresponsibility while we sit back and let auto theft increase by 20% every passing year.

You’re not going to like that, either.

Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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