Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention StatutesGeneral
Beginning with enactment of the Motor Vehicle Theft Law Enforcement
Act, Pub.L. No. 98-547, 98 Stat. 2754 (1984) (1984 Act), Congress began to
respond to the growing professionalism of motor vehicle theft during the
two decades. The primary thrust of this legislation is directed at
"chop shops" which cause the theft of motor vehicles in order to obtain
replacement parts for other vehicles damaged in accidents. As these "crash"
parts (i.e., fenders, doors, hoods, etc.) were not required to be marked
identification numbers, they were nearly impossible to identify as stolen
separated from the stolen vehicle.|
The 1984 Act gave the Secretary of Transportation authority to
prescribe by regulation a "vehicle theft prevention standard" which would
that manufacturers and importers of new passenger car models that are
theft targets ("high theft lines") mark the major components of such
with an identification number in order to help prevent their theft for "chop
shop" operations. The Secretary of Transportation was also authorized to
a voluntary component identification standard for "low theft" passenger car
and all other "road" motor vehicles (i.e., trucks, vans, motorcycles, etc.).
Secretary of Transportation was not given any authority over "off-highway"
equipment (i.e., bulldozers, farm tractors, etc.) by the 1984 Act.
The Anti Car Theft Act of 1992, Pub.L. No. 102-519, 106 Stat. 3397
(1992) (1992 Act) expanded the Secretary's motor vehicle parts marking
The 1992 Act required that within two years of the date of enactment
1992), the Secretary shall promulgate a vehicle theft standard pertaining to
covered major parts which are installed by all foreign and domestic
into passenger motor vehicles (other than light duty trucks) in not to
one-half of the lines not designated as high theft lines. As a result of
revision of Title 49 United States Code, Pub.L. 103-272, (1994) the theft
prevention (parts marking) provisions are now codified Chapter 331 of Title
The implementing regulations are set forth in 49 C.F.R. Part 541.
The 1984 Act also amended Title 18 to provide for criminal
for altering or removing motor vehicle identification numbers (18 U.S.C.
511); seizure and forfeiture of vehicles or components with falsified or
identification numbers (18 U.S.C. § 512); trafficking in road motor
or their components which have removed or falsified identification numbers
U.S.C. § 2321); importing or exporting any of a wide variety of motor
vehicles, vessels, or aircraft that have been stolen or that have had their
identification numbers falsified or removed (18 U.S.C. § 553). In
the 1984 Act authorizes the Customs Service to establish a regulation
that the exporter of a used motor vehicle, or used off-highway mobile
submit to the Customs Service before exportation a document evidencing his
ownership and containing the identification number of the vehicle or
(19 U.S.C. § 1627a).
The 1992 Act created a new offense which makes it a federal crime
own, operate, maintain, or control a "chop shop." (18 U.S.C. § 2322).
Finally, the Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Act (42 U.S.C. § 14171)
enacted as Title XXII of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
1994, requires the Attorney General to develop, in cooperation with the
a national voluntary motor vehicle theft prevention program wherein a motor
vehicle owner may sign a consent form authorizing law enforcement officers
stop his motor vehicle if it is being operated under specified conditions.
Participating motorists must display a program decal on their vehicles. An
unauthorized application of a program decal on a vehicle is punishable by a
not to exceed $1000 (18 U.S.C. § 511(a)).
[cited in Criminal Resource Manual 1303; USAM 9-61.700]