In the heat of summer, it’s not unusual to visit a convenience store to purchase a soft drink.

But imagine arriving at the store and deciding to leave your vehicle running so it stays cool. When you leave the store two minutes later, your vehicle is gone and nowhere to be seen. Now imagine later learning that your stolen vehicle was used by criminals to flee an armed bank robbery and en route from the crime, a pedestrian was hit. By leaving your vehicle running and the keys in the ignition, you have inadvertently participated in the commission of at least three separate crimes.

Last year in Texas, car thieves stole over 95,000 vehicles, resulting in an economic loss of more than $900 million. In half of those cases, they had an accomplice - the vehicle owner. This should be a sobering thought to all Texas drivers.

To raise awareness about the role of auto theft in secondary crimes, the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority has unveiled the “You Hold the Key” campaign, which is designed to remind all owners and operators that vehicles should never be left running while unattended.

According to Michelle Lanham, program manager for ATPA’s Reduce Auto Theft in Texas task force in Arlington, “Stolen vehicles can be connected to drug smuggling, human trafficking, international terrorism, and countless other offenses.

“Vehicle crimes such as theft and burglary are serious business, and it’s imperative that Texas drivers understand their role and responsibility in preventing these and other associated crimes that can have deadly consequences,” she said.

Many Texans will have the opportunity to learn about preventing vehicle theft during National Night Out events statewide on Aug. 7. The 24th annual National Night Out is a unique crime prevention event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch. NNO is designed to heighten crime and drug prevention awareness, generate support for local anti-crime programs, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community relationships and send a message to criminals letting them know neighborhoods are organized and aware. Many cities and neighborhoods recognize NNO with a variety of activities, including block parties, cookouts, visits from local law enforcement, fire and city officials, parades and youth programs.

At many NNO events in Texas, ATPA auto theft task force personnel will be distributing information about auto theft prevention. Among the tips NNO attendees can expect to obtain, drivers will be reminded to always remove their valuables from vehicles, lock the doors and take the keys. By practicing simple auto theft prevention techniques, vehicle owners can greatly decrease their chances of falling victim to theft.

The Texas ATPA was created by the Texas Legislature in 1991 to fund programs to reduce vehicle thefts. Since 1991, the vehicle theft rate has been reduced by 57 percent.

For more information on Texas vehicle crime statistics, participation in National Night Out events, the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, or to obtain a free packet of auto theft prevention information, call ATPA’s statewide vehicle crimes awareness hotline at 800-CAR-WATCH.