The misery of joyriding

Joyriding is the slang term in the UK for stealing and driving a vehicle, often known to the police and others as TWOCing (Taking Without Consent). Joyriders are usually young (often below the legal driving age) or offenders, or both, and are likely to be driving without a licence or insurance. They are likely to drive dangerously at high speed, often while drunk or on drugs, and cause crashes, killing and maiming themselves, their passengers and people in other vehicles and on foot and bikes. [3] A joy rider who causes a crash with casualties, and is not killed or seriously hurt themselves, is most likely to flee the scene (hit and run), leaving victims without help.

There are two laws relating to joyriding:

Taking a vehicle without consent (often referred to as TWOC-ing)

This offence is committed when a person takes a vehicle without the owner’s consent for his own or another’s use. In addition, the offence can be committed by someone who knows that a vehicle has been taken without consent and proceeds to drive it or travel in it. The offence carries with it:

  • a maximum prison sentence of 6 months and/or - a maximum fine of £5,000
  • discretionary disqualification from driving. [1]

Aggravated vehicle taking without owner’s consent

This offence is committed when a person takes a vehicle without the owner’s consent and additionally it is proved that after the vehicle was taken and before it was recovered one of the following occurred:

  • the vehicle was driven dangerously on a road or other public place; - owing to the driving of the vehicle, an incident occurred by which injury was caused to any person;
  • owing to the driving of the vehicle, an incident occurred by which damage was caused to any property other than the vehicle;
  • that damage was caused to the vehicle.

The offence is an either-way offence which means it can be tried at either Magistrates Court or Crown Court. If tried at Crown Court, the offence carries a penalty of:

  • a maximum prison sentence of two years
  • a maximum prison sentence of 14 years if a death was caused, “owing to the driving of the vehicle” and the case is heard in a Crown Court.

If tried at Magistrates Court, the offence carries a penalty of:

  • a maximum prison sentence of six months and/or
  • a fine up to £5,000 [2]

How extensive is the problem?

There has been a huge increase in incidents of aggravated vehicle taking. In 1995, there were 6,170 recorded incidents of aggravated vehicle taking, but this had risen by 80% to 11,121 in 2004/05 [4] in which year there were 40 recorded incidents of causing death by aggravated vehicle taking. [5] In the same year there were 230,729 recorded incidents of theft or unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle. [6]

Couple killed in hit-and-run

Pearl Whyne, 59, and her husband Keith, 71, were killed in a hit-and-run incident involving a stolen car in Birmingham. The couple were driving to the City Hospital in Birmingham where Mrs Whyne, a nurse for 30 years, was due to be on duty, when they were hit. Two men got out of the other car involved and ran off. Police said the vehicle was stolen from a supermarket car park half an hour before. [7]

Two men killed in stolen car

Two men were killed when the stolen car they were in crashed on a street in Darlington. Robert Michael Royal, 22, and Stephen John Dickens, 24, were killed when the red MG ZS collided with a central island then crashed into an unattended parked van. Police said the car had been taken following a burglary when the keys were stolen. [8]**

Teenagers killed in joyride

Dwayne Gerarghty, 16, and Daryle Gilmour, 13, died when the stolen car Dwayne was driving crashed head-on into another vehicle in Luton. A post-mortem examination showed Dwayne had consumed alcohol and cannabis before he stole the Vauxhall Nova, crashing only minutes later. Collision investigation officers found the steering lock of the Nova had been forced. It had been stolen just over a mile from the scene of the incident. [9]**

Teenager joyrider jailed after crashing into school playground

A 15-year-old boy who crashed through school gates and into a playground yards from where children were playing was jailed for 18 months. The teenager was being followed by police when he smashed into the yard at St Bernadette’s primary school in Bristol. He was sentenced to an 18-month detention and training order after admitting a string of driving offences. A passenger in the car, aged 15, pleaded guilty to allowing himself to be carried in a stolen car and was sentenced to a two-year supervision order. He was also placed under a night-time curfew for three months at his father’s house. The prosecutor said the pair drove at 60mph in a 30mph zone and on the wrong side of the road after being spotted by police. She said their driving became more and more dangerous before the car crashed into the playground where a class of about 30 children were standing. No one was hurt in the crash but several children suffered shock. [10]

Eight-year-old dies after being hit by stolen car

Eight-year-old Daniel Conroy Curtin died in hospital after being hit by a stolen car on a cycle path on Teesside. The youngster was left fighting for his life after the incident on 16 May 2006. A 15-year-old boy appeared in court accused of aggravated vehicle taking and was remanded to secure accommodation. Two 19-year-olds and a 15-year-old had been charged with being carried in a vehicle taken without consent. A 14-year-old was on police bail. [11]

What is being done to tackle joyriding?

There are several initiatives - some of them already underway - that could help to tackle the problem. Some are aimed specifically at joyriding, while others are aimed at tackling other problems but could also help to reduce the problem of joyriding in the process.

Vehicle Seizure and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)

Since July 2005, (under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005), police have had the power to seize a vehicle if the driver does not produce on demand a valid licence or proof of insurance, and they have reasonable grounds to believe that the vehicle is being driven without either. [12] Once seized the vehicle will only be returned to the owner if they produce valid insurance and driving licence documents. If the owner is unable to provide insurance and reclaim the vehicle within a set period of time, (usually one or two weeks) then police have the legal authority to dispose of the vehicle, usually by ensuring that it is crushed at a scrap yard.

The power to seize vehicles is being combined with the use of Automatic Number Place Recognition, which is now being used by all 43 forces in England and Wales, as well as police forces in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Police figures show that on average there are 578 vehicles seized every week for having no insurance as a result of ANPR technology. The same technology leads to the recovery of just 35 stolen vehicles each week - a low figure by anyone’s standards. [13] This is probably partially because ANPR technology can only identify stolen cars that have been reported as stolen to the police and which have been recorded on the Police National Computer as a stolen vehicle. To be identified, the vehicle would need to bear the original number plate, and there were 33,000 sets of number plates were reported stolen in 2004 compared with a few hundred cases two years before. Although ANPR is able to detect cloned vehicles it cannot do this immediately. [14]

The Association of Chief Police Officers’ National ANPR Co-ordinator, John Dean said: “My fear is that joyriding cases mostly take place almost immediately after the vehicle is taken, possibly prior to it being missed and/ or reported stolen to the police in which case ANPR is not be the ideal tool to identify ‘joyriders’. I would think the most effective way would be through more community policing and acting on intelligence regarding known/ suspected offenders and forensic examination of the vehicles.”

In June 2006, the road safety minister Stephen Ladyman launched number plates that break into pieces when thieves try to steal them, which are now on the market for about £40 for a pair, about twice the cost of a normal pair of plates. A spokesman at the DVLA said: ‘This is a significant anti-car crime measure.” It is hoped that manufacturers will install them as standard, and that eventually all plates will include micro-chips to ensure they are genuine.

Limiting the availability of older vehicles that are most easy to steal for ‘joyriding’ purposes

The Government is currently in the process of introducing measures related to the 2000 EC Directive on End-of-Life vehicles. Under this Directive, vehicle owners must be able to have their end-of-life vehicles accepted by authorised disposal services free of charge, even when they have a negative value, from January 2007 at the latest. Producers (vehicle manufacturers or professional importers) must pay all or a significant part of the costs of take back and treatment for end-of-life vehicles. Although this Directive is aimed at reducing the environmental impact of abandoned vehicles, it may also have an impact on joyriding, as it would mean there were fewer abandoned cars for joyriders to pick up.To find out more about this measure click here.

Making it more difficult to dispose of stolen vehicles/ easier to trace people buying cheap, old vehicles from salvage yards

Under the Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001, motor salvage operators must be registered by the Local Authority and keep proper records on transactions, including details of the person buying any vehicle from them. For information on this from Parliamentary debates click here (15 February 2001) and here (5 March 2001). The Act did not go as far as making it an offence for anyone under 17 to buy a vehicle, or for motor salvage yards to sell vehicles to anyone under 17, which would have limited the ability of unlicensed teenagers to get hold of cheap, old vehicles.

Secondary education

Improving the education of secondary age children (age 11 upwards) is vital as this can target any potential ‘joyriders of the future’ and passengers of joy riders, who can be very young. This type of education needs to teach youngsters the law (and punishments) associated with vehicle crime, the dangers to themselves and the tragic outcomes that can come with committing such crimes. The Department for Transport has published a number of lesson plans and worksheets which have been designed to meet curriculum targets and provide teachers with a forum to discuss aspects of road safety. Brake believes that young males, in particular, should be educated about the dangers of joy riding from the age of 11. Visit our too young to die campaign page. 

Parental supervision

Although it is often difficult to keep track of what teenagers are up to, parents should be responsible and make sure their youngsters are aware of the horrendous dangers of joy riding and try to keep up channels of communication and know where their youngsters are.

Clare Conroy, the mother of 8-year-old Daniel Conroy Curtin who died tragically in May 2006, nine days after he was hit by a stolen vehicle, said his death should be a permanent warning to people everywhere of the dangers posed if youngsters are tempted to get behind the wheel of a car. “Cars are not some play thing,” said Ms Conroy. “In the wrong hands they can and do kill and I would urge all parents to think long and hard on that. Do they know what their children are up to at night? No one should have to go through what our family has endured.”

For more information:

National Police Chiefs' Council
Crown Prosecution Service
Department for Transport
Home Office
Serious Organised Crime & Police Act
Think! Road Safety


[1] Driving Offences, Incorporating the Charging Standard, (The Crown Prosecution Service,
[2] Driving Offences, Incorporating the Charging Standard, (The Crown Prosecution Service,
[3] Seizure of Vehicles Being Driven Uninsured, Consultation ? Uninsured Driving, (DfT, 2004)
[4] Table 2.04: Recorded crime by offence 1995 to 2004/05 and percentage change between 2003/4 and 2004/05, Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005, p44, (Home Office, 2005)
[5] Table 2.04: Recorded crime by offence 1995 to 2004/05 and percentage change between 2003/4 and 2004/05, Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005, p42, (Home Office, 2005)
[6] Table 2.04: Recorded crime by offence 1995 to 2004/05 and percentage change between 2003/4 and 2004/05, Crime in England and Wales 2004/2005, p44, (Home Office, 2005)
[7] Couple Killed in Stolen Car Crash, (BBC News, 1 January 2005)
[8] Two Killed as Stolen Car Crashes (BBC News, 19 December 2005)
[9] Teenagers Killed in Drugs Joyride, (BBC News, 12 May 2004)
[10] Playground Joyriding Teen Jailed, (BBC News, 24 April 2006)
[11] Path Crash Boy Dies in Hospital, (BBC News, 26 May 2006)
[12] Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005
[13] John Dean, ACPO National ANPR Co-ordinator
[14] John Dean, ACPO National ANPR Co-ordinator

Tags: Drink-Drive speed young drivers road deaths drug-drive serious injury