Security: Keeping van thieves at bay

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Each year around 47,000 commercial vehicles are stolen in the UK at a total asset cost of £152 million.

Indeed, the Ford Transit is the UK’s most stolen vehicle, beating highly desirable cars. Consequently, ensuring you take every possible step to secure your vans is essential.

Not only will it reduce the likelihood of you suffering from van theft but it will also reduce the chances of your drivers being put at risk.

The security of your commercial vehcle operation splits neatly into three areas: the vehicles, the loads they carry and the people who drive them. Shortcomings in any of these areas could leave your company exposed to high risk.

Setting up a security strategy starts when you buy your vans. Many still don’t come with alarms as standard so it’s well worth paying extra to have them fitted, as most thieves are opportunists and will most likely have seen the flashing LED in the cab that shows an alarm is armed.

Some modern sat-nav units act as stolen vehicle trackers too. Most Citroën vans, for example, come with a Trafficmaster Smartnav system as standard.

Smartnav is a workaday route finder but it is connected to Traffic-master’s centre in Oxfordshire. At the signal that a van has been stolen, a Trafficmaster operative can track the vehicle on a screen and alert the police to its position. Last year, out of 29 vans stolen, 27 were recovered.

Pat Gallagher, Trafficmaster director, in-vehicle products, said: “We can locate any Trafficmaster-enabled Citroën LCV within moments of it being reported missing. Once we have confirmed it as being stolen, the police are informed of the vehicle’s whereabouts.  As a result, many arrests have been made as Trafficmaster’s staff can relay the position of the stolen Citroën – even while it is moving – to the police.

“This allows them to apprehend the criminals before they can make off with the load. The system operates globally and has even located one missing Citroën in Poland. Even if a van is hidden underground or in a container, as soon as it is started up and moved we can track it.”

The bad news is that if thieves are really determined to steal your vans’ contents, there is very little that can be done. After all, vans are basically large metal cans which can be opened up with some stout welding gear. The good news is that most thieves will go for the easiest option.

One of the industry’s major security players is Cobra Alarms. Managing director Andrew Smith told Fleet Van: “Stealing van keys, often through burglary, is now the most popular way for thieves to take vehicles, with 75% of all thefts done this way, which means that sophisticated vehicle locating and recovery systems are now more important than ever before. 

“If vans are taken home, never leave keys in a porch or near the front door at any time – professional thieves frequently obtain van keys by simply hooking them up through letterboxes.  Storing keys away should be prioritised when getting home.

“Simple tips around keeping your office secure can also help prevent van theft, which generated £1.5bn in criminal profit in 2012.  When you go out at night or leave the office at the end of the day, draw the blinds and leave a light on. Install a burglar alarm, check that all the doors and windows are secured and make sure your doors and downstairs windows are locked if you are in another part of the building.”

In 2012, vehicles worth nearly £4.5m fitted with Cobra stolen vehicle tracking systems were stolen and recovered, with three-quarters taken after thieves had stolen keys from an owner’s house or office or from personal items such as handbags or coats. 

Smith said: “It is always better if you can carry your keys on your person rather than in a handbag or wallet when out and about.

“Also avoid leaving van keys in jacket pockets when hanging up in restaurants or bar cloakrooms. And never leave vans with the keys in, even on your own driveway or office forecourt. Many vans are targeted during winter months when drivers warm up their vans before getting in.”

As well as avoiding having vans stolen, there are insurance benefits too.

Smith said: “Being security conscious about your vans will help reduce your insurance premiums.

“Keeping them in a locked garage overnight and fitting a stolen tracking device will not only reduce motoring costs but ensure you keep your vans. The average recovery time in 2012 for vehicles fitted with Cobra tracking technology was a mere 57 minutes – in 2013 Cobra has cut the average recovery time to just 22 minutes.”

Another deterrent is to add a massive high-visibility lock on the outside of your vehicles.

The problem, according to ExpressLock managing director Tony Withey, is that many fleets only come to his company for help after they’ve been hit rather than before. And it is not just the thieves who pose a threat.

He said: “Most thieves are opportunists, but believe it or not the driver is the next worst enemy, especially those engaged in multi-drop businesses. It is all too easy to leave a door open when delivering a parcel and that is when an opportunist will strike.”

The slamlocks manufactured by ExpressLock lock automatically when doors are closed, without requiring any operation by the driver.

They are primarily designed for applications such as multi-drop delivery, high-value loads and applications where the owner/operator requires control over the security of their goods. It is the function that appeals as much as the security.

Another major advantage with mechanical slamlocks is total control. Electronic systems often have either global (all doors) or area (load or cab) unlocking – this leaves the unrequired doors vulnerable until the auto-relock action operates. Slamlocks do not have this vulnerability.

Withey added: “We are living in a bad world at the moment and we have to do everything we can to keep ourselves safe. A strong, visible supplementary lock sends a message out loud and clear to the thief that there are easier targets elsewhere.”

Locks 4 Vans, meanwhile, manufactures a large range of devices that will help keep vehicles safe, including deadlocks and slamlocks.

Its slamlocks integrate with the vehicle manufacturers’ locking systems. This provides maximum security along with straightforward installation. They combine a genuine security slam operation with a high-visual deterrent.

Deadlocks are under the control of the driver. They are mechanical devices fitted to a vehicle door. The lock operates by throwing a bolt into a receiver fitted to the opposing body section when operated by an external key.

They are mainly aimed at owner-drivers or applications where the driver can be relied upon to operate the lock.

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