(Bloomberg) -- The San Francisco Bay area had the highest rate of auto thefts in the nation last year for the first time, as California continued to lead the U.S. in stolen cars per person.

The region was first among “hot spots” for thefts in 2014, climbing from fourth in 2013, the NationalInsurance Crime Bureau said in a report. The Bakersfield and Stockton-Lodi areas in California came in second and third. California was home to seven of the top 10 hot spots.

“California is the auto-theft capital of the world,” Frank Scafidi, a Sacramento-based spokesman for the NICB, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “There are more people and vehicles here than any place in the country. With a population that’s as big as what we have here, you get lots of good people and a lot of knuckleheads.”

Nationwide, vehicle thefts have declined every year but one since 2003, and the trend is expected to continue, Scafidi said. Better technology used by car manufacturers and law enforcement has contributed to the steady reduction in thefts.

The San Francisco region had about 633 thefts for every 100,000 people last year, the NICB said. The Bakersfield area had 596. That compares with 116 in greater New York City, which ranked 249th in the U.S.

‘Love Affair’

“In New York you don’t have a love affair with cars like you do in California,” Scafidi said. “You have lots of residents who don’t even own cars. The public transportation system is great.”

The total value of stolen vehicles in California last year was about $900 million, the California Highway Patrol said this month in a report. Statewide vehicle theft fell by almost 7 percent in 2014 from the year before, the CHP said.

Drivers should park in well-lit areas and use alarms, kill switches and smart keys to prevent auto theft, the NICB said in a statement Wednesday. Tracking devices can also help law enforcement recover stolen cars.

The bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by insurers that seeks to prevent and combatinsurance fraud and other crimes. The Des Plaines, Illinois-based NICB uses data provided by law enforcement and the U.S. Census to assemble its car-theft reports.

--With assistance from Sonali Basak in New York.

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