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Archive for Friday, December 5, 2003

Wichita unattended vehicles ordinance finds itself at odds with Kansas law

State senator urges City Council to rethink its action

December 5, 2003

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— A long-standing ordinance prohibiting people from leaving their vehicles running unattended in Wichita has been repealed, just in time for those who like to warm up their cars before driving them during the winter.

"In my opinion this is not worthy of being a law," said Paul Gray, whose motion to repeal it passed 4-3 at the City Council's meeting earlier this week.

Yet the change is not free of criticism from opponents who feel it will lead to more car thefts and confusion about the conflicting city ordinance and state law.

State law says it is still illegal to leave a running car unattended, unless it is equipped with a remote starter.

State Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, chairman of the Transportation Committee and owner of a car dealership, said he would call on council members and area law enforcement authorities to urge reversal of the council's action, which won't take effect until later this month.

"I'm gonna say, 'Whoa, guys. Careful there,'" Donovan said.

"Seriously, they need to talk to the law enforcement people. ... They may decide they don't want to go this route."

The council's action was prompted by the recent change in state law allowing cars with remote starters to run unattended. But the city took the amendment a step further and wiped the ordinance off the books.

Donovan pointed out that legislators changed the state law this year to accommodate a car manufacturing plant in Kansas City, Kan., that is producing Chevrolets with optional factory-installed remote starters.

He said state legislators didn't go as far as the council because state law enforcement authorities always have supported the law as a way to reduce car thefts.

Though the Wichita Police Department hasn't officially decided how to handle the conflicting laws, police likely will not seek out car owners who leave vehicles running unattended, Police Lt. Duffy Doyle said.

But Doyle said that, in his opinion, officers could write a ticket for drivers whose unattended cars caused a more drastic chain of events, such as a chase or death.

Gray doesn't think repealing the ordinance will encourage more car thefts, and he expects car owners to exercise good judgment by not leaving their unattended running cars unlocked.

"That's common sense," he said, "but you can't legislate common sense."

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