Police are providing anti-theft devices to Hyundai owners residing in Baltimore County

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore County Police Department has a plan to reduce the number of vehicles being stolen in a TikTok theft challenge against Hyundai and Kia vehicles: issue steering wheel locks, according to authorities.

The nationwide auto theft pattern has recently prompted Hyundai and Kia to roll out software updates and make them available free of charge to millions of people who own vehicles lacking a vital anti-theft device.

The Baltimore County Police Department announced Saturday that its officers will support Hyundai Motor Company by giving out free steering wheel locks to Baltimore County residents.

The locks are available to county residents who own a Hyundai vehicle manufactured between 2016 and 2021 that does not have a key fob or push button to start the vehicle, authorities said.

To qualify for a steering wheel lock, county residents must provide the Baltimore County Police Department with a copy of their vehicle registration, police said.

County residents can email this information to the Baltimore County Police Department at [email protected], authorities said.

Anyone who doesn’t have access to a computer can call 410-887-2210 for help, police said.

Registration is required as supplies are limited. Emails must be received by Tuesday, February 28, 2023, authorities say.

“Protecting those who live, work and visit Baltimore County is our top priority, and this campaign is one way we can accomplish that,” Acting Baltimore County Police Chief Dennis Delp said in a statement.

The software updates that Hyundai offers motorists are specific to certain models that have been manufactured in recent years.

Hyundai began rolling out the updates to nearly 4 million vehicles on Tuesday, starting with one million 2017-2020 model year Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue vehicles.

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The software upgrade is expected to be available for the remaining eligible vehicles by June.

Hyundai dealers will perform the upgrade, which will take less than an hour to install, police said.

Anyone who receives an upgrade will also receive window decals, according to authorities, to alert potential thieves that the vehicle is equipped with improved anti-theft technology.

The released software updates the anti-theft alarm software logic to increase the length of the alarm tone from 30 seconds to one minute and requires the key to be in the ignition switch to turn on the vehicle.

Around 3.8 million Hyundais and 4.5 million Kias are eligible for the software update, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday.

Hyundai says all models produced after November 1, 2021 will come standard with immobilizers.

Insurance companies have become aware of the increased theft rates. State Farm said in January that it temporarily suspended insurance for some model years and trim levels of Hyundai and Kia vehicles in some states because thieves targeted the cars.

“This is a serious issue affecting our customers and the entire auto insurance industry,” a State Farm spokesman told CBS News last month.

The insurer hasn’t said which types of Hyundai and Kia vehicles are affected, nor in which states it has suspended new insurance policies for the cars.

TikTok challenge related to crashes and deaths

A social media challenge from TikTok drew attention to the lack of an immobilizer, resulting in at least 14 reported accidents and eight deaths, according to NHTSA. The challenge shows TikTok viewers how to short-circuit Kia and Hyundai cars using a USB cable and a screwdriver.

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In October, a police commissioner said a car crash in Buffalo, New York that killed four teenagers may have been linked to the TikTok Challenge. The incident involved a total of six teenagers in a speeding Kia that crashed, Buffalo police said. The car was reported stolen.

Hyundai and Kia will begin software updates later this month, with subsequent phases over the next few months. Hyundai will also provide vehicle owners with window decals to alert would-be thieves that the vehicle has anti-theft protection.

Vehicle owners may contact Hyundai at 800-633-5151 and Kia at 800-333-4542 for software update information.