"Joy Ride: An Auto Theft" was an educational film depicting the dangers of teen-aged joy riding (taking a vehicle without the owner's consent), and — according to the movie trailer — was based on a real-life event. In addition to being shown in driver's education classes, "Joy Ride" was frequently shown to other classes, youth groups and audiences where teen-agers were the primary audience.

The story focuses on four teen-agers: Val, Tim, Kari and Vicki. Val and Tim are unlicensed youths who have nothing to do. While hanging out at the local park, the two boys become envious of an older teenager named Randy, who is playing baseball and has the very thing Val and Tim decide they need to impress girls: a car. They realize that Randy had left the keys in the ignition of his car, and realizing that Randy will probably be occupied for a couple of hours, decide to take his car out for a spin ... reasoning that they can go out for a ride and return it undetected. They invite two female friends, Kari and Vicki, to ride with them. They wind up going to a wooded area, where they lose track of time. In their haste to get back (to return the car before Randy realizes his car had been stolen), Val speeds along the winding roads and it isn't long before a highway patrolman goes after the speeding car. His passengers plead for Val to pull over (or slow down), but Val ignores them; Val and Kari struggle for control of the car, and the car eventually collides head-on with the side of a cliff.

The post-script reveals the tragic news: Val, Tim and Kari are killed, and Vicki is paralyzed.