Hochul announces new efforts to combat car thefts tied to national TikTok challenge

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ALBANY — After a viral social media trend led to an increase in car thefts of Hyundai and Kia automobiles in some parts of the state, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced new efforts to help police combat the rise.

A recent TikTok challenge has gained the attention of both state and federal authorities after videos have gone viral showing what are typically groups of young people showing how to seal certain vehicle make and models.

Hochul during a press conference said thefts related to the social media challenge has been most common in Monroe, Erie and Niagara counties. A public information officer at the Schenectady Police Department said they have not seen any rise in car thefts. In fact, data provided by Hochul’s office found car thefts are down 11% in the Capital Region since the start of the year. The data also shows car thefts have declined by more than 50% in the North Country and Mohawk Valley.

In that same timeframe, car thefts have increased 345% in Monroe County and 213% in Erie County. Most of those thefts have occurred in Rochester and Buffalo.

“Too many New Yorkers are waking up in shock to an empty driveway, walking outside the barber shop and finding out the vehicle that got them there is no longer sitting at the curb and seeing one of their most valuable possessions – it is one of your second-most valuable possession after your housing – having disappear, gives you a sense of helplessness,” the Democrat said.

Hochul also stressed that while some parts of the state are seeing a drastic increase in car thefts, crime overall is continuing to go down since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Overall, violent crime is actually down 12% since 2021, so that’s good news,” she said. “But, when you have one outlier, one category of crime that is driving up the rest, that’s a real challenge for us.”

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in February said in a press release that the social media challenge had resulted in at least 14 reported crashes and eight fatalities, as the viral videos also show the car thieves driving recklessly after stealing the cars.

Past polling has shown crime as one of voters’ biggest concerns, which ultimately led to a close gubernatorial race against former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin last year, who focused his campaign on crime.

The two companies were targeted for the challenge because they are not equipped with push-button ignitions or immobilizing anti-theft devices. That led Hyundai Motor America and Kia America to pay $200 million to settle a class-action lawsuit. The TikTok challenge viral videos show people stealing the cars using just a screwdriver and a USB cord, the Associated Press reports.

The NHTSA also in February announced the two companies were required to develop free theft-deterrent software for their vehicles that lacked immobilizers in response to the social media challenge. Hyundai also provided customers with a window sticker to alert would-be car thieves that the vehicle was now equipped with the anti-theft protection. The companies were also required to work with law enforcement agencies to provide 26,000 steering wheel locks.

Hochul’s plan mirrors national action against the thefts, such as encouraging owners to download the anti-theft software updates, using anti-theft window stickers and urging car owners to buy wheel locks, which may be reimbursed by the state. There will also be a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of the issue.

She also highlighted $50 million that had already been allocated in this year’s state budget for new law enforcement technology and equipment. She said the funding will now be prioritized in counties with the greatest numbers of car thefts.

Additionally, the state is allocating up to $5 million for youth justice alternatives and diversion programs and services.

“We have to protect the public and we’ve found innovative ways to especially reach out to young people before they head down a path that might be irreversible,” Hochul said.

Categories: News, State News

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