While leaving a car idling in a driveway or parking lot isn’t illegal, Columbus police are warning drivers about the increased chance of car theft as cold weather creeps in.
“We could cut the number of car thefts in half in Columbus if people would just take the keys out of their cars,” Maj. Gil Slouchick said.
And he means that literally. Slouchick said in January of this year, over 90 cars were reported stolen. Out of those, over half of the victims’ keys were in the ignition with the car running.
Yes, there’s a convenience factor to having a warm car in the morning, Slouchick said, but drivers are at a risk of making it warm for someone else.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched [on video] chasing people down the sidewalk, actually chasing people down the sidewalk,” Slouchick said.
For instance, a driver this year left his truck running outside a friend’s house for only a few minutes. When he returned, the car was gone — with his 9-year-old son in the backseat.
Luckily, police located the car and boy a short while later. But the situation could have been avoided by simply removing the keys from the ignition, Slouchick said.
“[Drivers are] making it easy, and they’re making themselves a victim,” Slouchick said.
There are no local ordinances on leaving a car running and unattended, but Georgia code 40-6-201 once made it illegal for a driver to leave a car idling. Drivers found in violation could end up paying a $168 ticket, according to an archived March 2007 Atlanta Journal Constitution story.
“No person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle shall permit it to stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, effectively setting the brake, and, when the vehicle is standing upon any grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the highway,” the ordinance stated.
The ordinance was repealed in 2007, but Atlanta still has an active local law pertaining to trucks and buses.
According to code 150-97, no person shall stop any truck or bus on any street or public place for more than 15 minutes. If the “ambient temperature” is less than 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the time limit goes up to 25 minutes.
The ordinance is not applied if the vehicle has to be stopped due to traffic conditions, the engine must run to perform needed work (like an emergency vehicle or utility truck) or the vehicle is being used to provide necessary passenger safety or comfort.
Additionally, any truck or bus that uses Natural Gas or electricity as the primary source of fuel is exempt from the code limitations.
Drivers found in violation of the ordinance can face a $500 minimum fine.
If drivers really want to warm up a car in the morning, Slouchick suggests parking a car behind it so a thief can’t get out of the driveway.
Even using a spare key to lock the car while running won’t work every time, Slouchick said.
“The person who’s stealing your car cares nothing about that car,” he said. “It’s something for him to commit a crime with. He doesn’t care if he breaks a window out, they don’t care if they wreck your car, if they damage it.”
The majority of these vehicles are not being used to go from one place to the next, but instead are used to commit crimes like burglaries and armed robberies, Slouchick said.
The advice is simple, Slouchick said: Take your keys out of the ignition, and you’ll drastically reduce your risk of falling victim to car theft.