On May 1, 2024
Local News

New bill set to outlaw breaking into people’s cars — or trying to steal them

Submitted — New bill aims to lessen car break-ins with penalties.

By Norah White, Community News Service

Editor’s note: The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.

Entering another person’s vehicle without their consent — or attempting to steal it — will be a crime under a bill moving through the Legislature. 

The bill, H.563, has been in the works since the beginning of the pandemic and moved to the Senate after it passed the House April 25. 

The bill would fill what supporters say is a gap in the law. 

Right now, if someone enters your car, rummages around and leaves without taking anything, they haven’t committed a crime. 

“It’s a very common sense thing that shouldn’t be allowed,” co-sponsor Rep. Thomas Oliver, R/D-Burlington, said in a House judiciary committee meeting Feb. 8. 

“People view their car as no different than a room in their house, and I think they have a right to feel that way,” Oliver said.

Under the details of the bill, a person who enters another’s motor vehicle without consent faces up to 3 months in prison or up to $500 in fines. Repeat offenders could see up to a year in prison and the same fine. 

Motor vehicle thefts in Vermont increased by about 250% between 2016 and 2022, rising from 173 offenses to 605, according to data collected by the FBI. South Burlington’s police chief told WCAX in March the city had seen a 425% jump in car theft reports from 2018 to last year. Despite the rise, Vermont continues to hold one of the nation’s lowest ratios of car thefts per 100,000 residents.

Supporters of the bill hope it will discourage car theft and help lower those statistics in years to come, Oliver said. 

The bill also redefines the penalty for driving someone’s vehicle without their consent. Under the retooled offense, an offender who knowingly does so could be sentenced up to two years in prison or fined up to $1,000. A person who merely should have known they weren’t allowed to take the car, on the other hand, would face the same as if they had just entered the vehicle — up to three months in prison and a $500 fine.

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