For many years, auto theft was considered a minor offense in Alaska, and you might be surprised to know how recent that was. This meant that car thieves never received much in the way of punishment for their crimes. Most likely, the minor offense “Joy Riding” law was created due to the majority of car thefts being committed by juveniles. The following editorial clearly defined the frustration many Fairbanksans felt about the “Joy Riding” law:
Fairbanks Daily News Miner- December 1, 1966
“JOY RIDING” STRANGE DEFINITION OF THEFT
One of the more ridiculous aspects of our society was emphasized this winter with the first cold snap that kept automobile engines running while the owners were elsewhere.
Our statutes carry a law that makes it a misdemeanor for a motorist to leave his engine running with the key in the ignition and the doors unlocked. At the same time Alaska has no car theft law and the person who takes a car not his’n doesn’t go to prison. He is cited for “joy riding.”
The burden of keeping people honest rests with the property owner in this case. It seems that we live in a society that literally says, “Don’t tempt anyone to become a thief, it isn’t fair.” Just how absurd can we get: It looks as if to own anything is to be some sort of pariah.
The man who leaves his engine running is fined. The fellow who takes the car usually gets a tap on the wrist and a gentle admonishment not to do it again.
We don’t believe in the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth philosophy, but a little stricter penalty for stealing a car just might stop some of this nonsense.
A person whose car is stolen and often damaged or wrecked is faced with the necessity of the paper work to get the car repaired and frequently has to go without a car until it is fixed.
What happens to the thief? He’s often “psychoanalyzed” and on his way without a car in the world.
Possibly this coming legislature will consider a law that would tighten this loose handling of a daily problem in Alaska’s cities. Such a law was proposed in 1964, but never moved out of committee. It was considered “too tough.”
Note: Finally, 12 years later, in March of 1978, the State House Judiciary Committee voted to make “Joy Riding” a felony offense instead of a misdemeanor. The joy riding party was over at last and the auto theft rate in Fairbanks began to drop. The Fairbanks Igloos of the Pioneers of Alaska would like remind you to be joyful that it is much harder to steal a car these days!
This history nugget has been brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.