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Car theft doesn’t just imply that your car gets stolen. It also includes thieves breaking into your vehicle and taking valuable things. After all, stealing something like a laptop left in the car or a stereo nets a much lower chance of getting caught. Depending on who the thief is, an alarm and lock may not even be enough to convince them to think twice about the crime. However, there are preventative steps to take that can deter would-be thieves. One might think parking in a well-lit area would deter thieves. However, it seems it may do the exact opposite.

Do street lights deter thieves or attract them?

a street light still lit as the sun comes up
Street lights may only attract thieves | FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

According to The Guardian, the answer to that question might be a bit surprising. It may seem reasonable that thieves would avoid well-lit cars.

Naturally, one might think it would not be worth the risk of being seen or getting caught on camera. However, it seems that shedding light on a car may only make it easier for thieves to see what they’re after. If there’s something in there that the lightning makes it easier for them to see, it might draw them in. Furthermore, better lighting makes steeling things like wheels and hubcaps easier.

Criminal scientists put these theories to the test in a study found in The Journal of Quantitative Criminology. The study assessed crime rates by changing light conditions in various towns in England. From 2004 to 2013, city officials adjusted street lights to one of three settings from midnight to five AM. On one setting, the lights were left on full brightness all night, and they were dimmed on another setting for the same time frame. Finally, the third method was to turn the lights off from midnight to five AM entirely. What the study found is a bit surprising.

“Perhaps counterintuitively, the study found that switching off the lights could bring benefits. When street lighting was turned off between about midnight and about 5 am, the rate of total night-time crime fell by around a quarter, while thefts from vehicles fell by 44% – once changes in daytime levels of crimes, which gives a sense of crime fluctuations due to factors other than lighting changes, were taken into account,” states The Guardian’s article.

There is one note to make, though. The study also found a steady decrease in crime over the years it was active

Can parking in the dark reduce car theft?

man breaks into a car with a crowbar
Man wearing a balaclava, about to break open the side door of a vehicle | Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It seems, by the findings of this study, it might be the case that parking in poorly lit areas will reduce the chance of things from your car getting stolen. Of course, it’s much a better practice to remove everything of value from your vehicle when you go inside at night. Within reason, of course, but things like electronics and other easily transported valuable items are not worth losing. Plus, if these items are visible in your car, there’s a decent chance you’ll wind up having to pay for a window replacement, too. The smash and grab technique is more and more popular these days. Often, it happens in broad daylight.

Overall, if you can avoid parking outside altogether, that is your safest bet. However, if you can’t, parking in a dark area may reduce the chances of your car getting broken into. Most of all, never underestimate what crafty thieves are willing to do!