SF Legislation Looks to Reduce Rental Car Break-Ins

Introduced by San Francisco Supervisor Norman Yee, the proposed legislation would prohibit rental car companies from leaving visible barcodes and advertisements on their vehicles in the city or at San Francisco International Airport.

Entitled “Reducing Rental-Car Burglaries,” the legislation would reportedly help protect rental car customers from vehicle break-ins. Yee presented it to the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

According to the legislation, the city of San Francisco experienced approximately 25,000 automobile burglaries in 2015 — or around 70 per day. Automobile burglaries have nearly tripled since 2011 when San Francisco experienced about 10,000 of these burglaries.

Data from the District Attorney’s Office shows that many of San Francisco’s tourist destinations — such as the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Civic Center, and Lombard Street — are popular spots for automobile burglary. Burglars know that many visitors carry electronics, large amounts of money, and other valuables, according to the legislation.

In addition to educating visitors about the risks of automobile burglary, reducing the ability to identify vehicles as rental cars could also help address the burglary issue. Rental cars typically carry barcode stickers on their windshields and windows. Rental cars may also have advertisements about their rental company, such as license-plate frames.

According to the legislation, rental car companies could track their inventory in other methods besides using windshield and window barcodes. Examples include placing barcodes in places that aren’t immediately visible (such as inside vehicle doors) or using RFID for inventory control.

However, some rental companies and the American Car Rental Association (ACRA) are crying foul.

"As the owner, and often insurer, of tens of thousands of vehicles in San Francisco, no one is more interested in stopping car break-ins and theft than the car rental industry,” said Sharky Laguana, owner of Bandago, a van rental company based in San Francisco, and a member of ACRA's board of directors. “If more signs, notices, and removing bar codes would significantly reduce break-ins, we would not wait for a law in order to take action.”

“This legislation makes no sense: it blames the victim for tempting thieves, does nothing to prevent crime, and will over time cost the industry millions of dollars — costs which will ultimately be passed onto consumers in the form of higher rates,” added Laguana. “Like burning your house down in order to prevent graffiti, the proposed cure is worse than the disease. It appears the answer to this problem simply lies in better policing [SF has an arrest rate of just 2.25%; the national average is 14%], not putting up more meaningless notices or making it harder to do business.”

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