Cars With Immobilizers May Get Exemption

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Automakers that equip vehicles with immobilizer devices could earn exemptions from federal anti-theft standards under a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
     More than 700,000 vehicle thefts occurred in the U.S. in 2011, at a cost of more than $4.3 billion. Although vehicle thefts have declined 42.6 percent from 2002 levels, the FBI's 2011 Uniform Crime Report shows it is still the No. 1 property crime in the U.S., the agency said.
     The Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement Act requires vehicle manufacturers to meet theft-prevention standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
     The standards include marking specific parts of a vehicle, including the engine, transmission, hood, fenders, doors, quarter panels and bumpers.
     In an action published in the Federal Register on Friday, however, regulators proposed an exemption from such standards for manufacturers that equip all the vehicles in one line with an anti-theft device deemed by the agency as "likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the theft prevention standard."
     Specifically, the proposed regulation would set criteria for immobilizers that shut down a vehicle's electrical or fuel systems. The device is based on microchip and transponder technology that prevent the vehicle from starting without the correct code.
     In a Highway Loss Data Institute bulletin, Ford Motor Co. reported a 70 percent reduction in theft of MY (model year) 1997 Mustangs with immobilizers, compared to MY 1995 Mustangs that did not have them.
     The NHTSA stressed that, if adopted, the proposed regulation would not require manufacturers to equip vehicle lines with immobilizers to gain an exemption.
     "Manufacturers would still be able to petition the agency to install other anti-theft devices as standard equipment in a vehicle line to obtain an exemption from the theft prevention standard," according to the action.
     The criteria would also bring U.S. theft-prevention standards "more in line with those of Canada," and "ongoing bilateral regulatory cooperation efforts" to streamline the sale of cars across the northern border to meet Canada's anti-theft standards.
     Comments are due by March 18.