Police in New Haven, Connecticut, are combating vehicle thefts promoted on TikTok by handing out steering wheel locks to the public.
New Haven police distributed the locks on Presidents Day to prevent thefts inspired by the TikTok challenge. The nationwide social media trend primarily focuses on older models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles that still retain mechanical ignition systems and are vulnerable to certain hot-wiring methods. Thieves target the vehicles by using a USB charger to hot-wire the cars. They then take the cars out for a joyride and upload the act to TikTok.
According to Lieutenant Ryan Przybylski, he received 115 locks from Hyundai to hand out to drivers who own 2010–2021 Hyundais.
“There’s been a trend upward in stolen Kias and Hyundais. It’s about 100% increase over last year,” Przybylski told WFSB News. “Crime of opportunity. It’s just very easy to steal these types of vehicles, these years and makes specifically.”
Data from the New Haven Police Department’s recent crime report showed that the city recorded 86 car thefts up to February 5 this year, 12 more than during the same time period last year.
“I think this is a great idea, hopefully it works, hopefully it deters the crime and nobody gets my car,” a New Haven resident named Red said.
The lieutenant said that his districts in Dwight, Edgewood and Kensington have been hit particularly hard by thieves influenced by the TikTok challenges, which teach teens how to steal cars with household items. Recently, six Hyundais and Kias were stolen in just one week in the city.
“I feel bad for all these people, they’re just trying to get to work,” Przybylski told the New Haven Independent. “It’s a big problem. Hopefully every [lock] I give away is one less stolen car.”
“All I know is that they steal them and it’s not fair to people to have to absorb the cost,” Alberta Gibbs of New Haven said.
“It gives me a little peace of mind, and so when I go back home, I’m going to encourage other people on my block to do the same,” Gibbs said.
Przybylski also taught drivers how to use the locks correctly. “Make sure you use it, the long end goes towards your driver’s side window,” he said.
Older versions of the cars do not have anti-theft immobilizers that prevent the engine from igniting unless the correct key is utilized. This makes the vehicles vulnerable to theft. However, Hyundai said it is offering a software update that includes extending a car alarm while also requiring a key to be in the ignition to start the car.
Meanwhile, the lieutenant said he is waiting to receive additional locks from Kia.
“Every single one of these that I give out is one less stolen car we’ll have here in New Haven,” Przybylski added.