NEW YORK — Auto theft has been on the downturn for the past few years, but four vehicles are still stolen every two minutes, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

Fortunately, progress has been made by the insurance industry, law enforcement, auto manufacturers and others in efforts to thwart auto theft. Preliminary figures from the FBI Uniform Crime Report, note that motor vehicle theft has decreased for the fifth consecutive year in 2008 with a 13 percent drop over 2007. Final figures will be available later this year, but it looks like 2008 will post the greatest decline in decades.

“The downward trend in vehicle theft rates is encouraging and shows that motorists are protecting themselves by locking their cars and removing valuable items from view,” said Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). “Technology also plays a big part. Manufacturers are building cars that are harder to steal. And bait cars, which lure thieves, are also having an effect,” he added. “Law enforcement can now apprehend and convict the most active auto thieves and put them away for a long time.”

Insurance premiums have reflected that drop. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average comprehensive insurance premium in the U.S. fell 3.3 percent from $145.16 in 2005 to $140.38 in 2006 (the most recent data available).

California has the highest vehicle theft rate in the nation, the NICB states. In fact, six of the nation’s top 10 areas with the highest vehicle theft rates are in the state; Laredo, Texas, Yakima, Washington, Las Vegas, Nevada and Albuquerque, New Mexico round out the list.

NICB data also show that the 1995 Honda Civic continues to be the most stolen car on the road, followed by the 1991 Honda Accord and the 1989 Toyota Camry. Theft of these older model cars has been a constant for many years. Thieves continue to target these vehicles because they provide the best market for stolen vehicle parts. Luxury vehicles are also stolen and often shipped overseas in container ships for resale in markets abroad.