Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Thieves on lookout for cars left to warm up

December 9, 2005


It was bitterly cold outside, so Christine Case left her Ford Escort idling in the driveway Monday night when she stopped by a friend's house to pick up some belongings.

Bad move.

"I walk back out and it's gone," said Case, a 20-year-old Kansas University student.

Case is one of at least three people in recent weeks to have a car stolen while it sat idling or warming up in the cold weather. It's a common practice for Midwesterners this time of year, but police say it's not only an invitation to crime - it's against the law.

According to a state law first passed in 1974, a driver can't let a car stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and removing the key. Lawrence Police spokesman Sgt. Dan Ward said the purpose was both to protect the public safety and prevent theft.

The law applies even in people's driveways, Ward said. He cited a case last month in which a woman left her car running, went inside her home and watched as someone climbed into the car to steal it. She tried to stop him, but he drove off.

Christine Case left her Ford Escort idling in the driveway Monday night when she stopped by a friend's house. The car was stolen. Case and at least two other people in recent weeks have fallen victim to car thieves as they left their vehicles idling.

Christine Case left her Ford Escort idling in the driveway Monday night when she stopped by a friend's house. The car was stolen. Case and at least two other people in recent weeks have fallen victim to car thieves as they left their vehicles idling.

"Even standing back and watching it is probably not a safe thing to do," Ward said.

Municipal Prosecutor Tom Porter said he'd never seen a ticket for leaving a car idling, but he said it likely would carry a $60 fine, plus $42 in court costs.

A change to the state law in 2003 made an exception for vehicles that have a remote starting system, as long as the doors are locked and the keys aren't inside.

Case's car was stolen about 10:55 p.m. Monday from the 3800 block of West 24th Street. It was recovered the next day after an 81-year-old man found it parked in his driveway near Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive and called police.

From now on, Case said, "if I've got to warm up my car, I'm sitting in it."

She said she thought the state law was a good idea.

"It just makes it harder because it's like 10 degrees outside right now," she said. "It's just something you have to deal with, I guess."


neopolss 12 years, 5 months ago

Repeal this law. A person shouldn't be ticketed for this. Whether it was locked or not, it is the person who stole it that committed the crime. We shouldn't have to place everything under lock and key. We should encourage people to lock their cars, but let's not ticket them when it is stolen - let's find the thief instead.

bankboy119 12 years, 5 months ago

That's not a good law at all. So people are forced to sit in their car for 10 minutes while it warms up?

italianprincess 12 years, 5 months ago

Oh great another lame law. I left my car running last night to warm up ( not knowing about this lame law ) just to thaw it out. Of course it was locked so no one would steal it, I'm not stupid.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who warms up there car in this weather withour actually sitting in the car.

superduper 12 years, 5 months ago

Seems silly especially in your own driveway. In my old car you can actually remove the keys while the ignition is on :) So I start it up and remove the keys and lock the doors. A friend of mine had a jeep and he was always forgetting his keys so he broke the key off in the ignition and left it there. One day it was stolen from in front of a bar. I guess when drunk enough someone actually thought hey could start it without the keys. They were right :) I think the law was another one of those cases where someone stole a car and was killed in an accident. Maybe a kid or something.

craigers 12 years, 5 months ago

EM that is pretty ironic, maybe the webmaster at LJWorld stole the car and wants to sell it. I know I leave my car running outside my house with the keys in it. I use my remote lock and lock it everytime I go inside to make sure that you can't just hop in and take it. Besides if I am at home I could probably force the perp out pretty easily. (There are things at home that I can't carry in the car, at least not until they allow it).

So would this law encourage people to warm up their car inside the garage and fill their house with carbon monoxide? This is just another law that had to be put in place to fine the victims. Wouldn't that suck to have your car stolen and when the police show up to file a report they hand you a $100 ticket for leaving your car running? Talk about a bad day.

coach 12 years, 5 months ago

No tickets have ever been written. Its one of those Laws that are on the books that local police dont car about.

jayhawks71 12 years, 5 months ago

This law is "funny" in the sense that I could see if the law was created regarding the safety of a car, and how it might possibly MOVE having been started, but when they make an exception for remote starts? Yeah, the engine would PROBABLY cut out if someone tried to move it (by design), but if the car MALFUNCTIONS with the key in it and the doors locked, who is to say it wouldn't malfunction with the remote start!

Dumb law. If your car gets stolen it's a crime.

plslucky3 12 years, 5 months ago

Okay the law might be "for our own good" but Im sorry I dont need the city or state making laws like that for my own good. I think an adult can make a choice about leaving their car unattended or now and they know the consequences. Are they going to make a law about leaving your garage locked too or their homes for that matter. I dont do it, but there are people who dont even lock their doors at home.

avhjmlk 12 years, 5 months ago

Are they expecting people with small children to let their children come out to the car and freeze with them while it's warming up? You can't warm it up in a closed garage, and I'm certainly not going to leave my 20 month old in the house alone while I sit in the car waiting for it to warm up. What's to say that a person wouldn't suffer from momentary cold-induced stupidity and accidentally drive off with kiddo still in the house?

MARKCZ 12 years, 5 months ago

My question, legally speaking, would than be: 1.) If I leave my car running (to warm up) and 2.) Someone steals the car and 3.) I report the vehicle stolen - The police give me a ticket at the time I report the vehicle stolen?? Or - do the two "crimes" offset one another and the police tell me it is my own fault, I am out of luck, sorry about your loss, have a nice day??

badger 12 years, 5 months ago

I'm telling you guys, bird flu is the key to this.

Start a campaign based in the premise that sitting in a cold car while warming it up presents a 326% increase in your chances of being susceptible to a possible pandemic. Apply for a grant from the city to study this. $60-80k should be enough; no need to be greedy. At the end of six months, publish a study that validates your findings with vague numbers and confusing statistics, and recommend not only immediate repeal of the law, but also city-subsidized engine block warmers, remote start devices, covered parking for everyone who wants it (let's build everyone a shed! People without cars could let homeless people live in their sheds!), and also for blow dryers to keep people from going outside with wet hair.

I'm just sayin', is all.

sd123 12 years, 5 months ago are freggin helarious!!!!!! lol

Lib_ee12 12 years, 5 months ago

What is ironic is that police officers all carry 2 sets of keys. One to keep in the ignition and the car running while on a stop, and one to go back and unlock the car after a stop. It's a good thing there have been no tickets, police are willfully violating this law!

gccs14r 12 years, 5 months ago

The law was written because Ford couldn't keep their cars from hopping into reverse.

b_asinbeer 12 years, 5 months ago

If the car is on YOUR property, why not?

Jamesaust 12 years, 5 months ago

On one hand, in a world of keyless door locks, such a law seems a tad absurd.

Having said that, if someone was prone to leave say $20,000 in gold coins sitting by the curb and one day the coins were stolen, would many have sympathy for the victim?

labmonkey 12 years, 5 months ago

Why do we need to warm up cars for 10-20 minutes anyway? As long as the oil has time to warm up (friction does this rather quicky) and returns to normal viscosity, then you are okay to drive your vehicle. This takes like 30 seconds...and will definately be warm enough to drive by the time you scrape your windows. You are wasting fuel and polluting the air letting your car idle for 20 minutes. This isnt just me....automotive experts such as Sirkorsky and the Car Guys (Tom and Ray Manguzzi aka Click and Clack the Tappert Brothers) preach this every year. I can understand warming the car's ambient temperature in cases where you transport infants or the elderly, but that definately wasnt the case with Ms. Case (heh). Grand theft auto is a crime, but leaving a running while unattended is stupid, polluting, and lazy.

myunitedstatesofWHATEVA 12 years, 5 months ago

this law is to pretect you all from getting your car stolen.. so the police can focus on more deserving crimes rather than trying to find your car that was stolen because you cant follow one little law

badger 12 years, 5 months ago

Frankly, the only laws I want to 'protect' me from being a victim of crime are the ones that make said crime illegal and require that the perpetrator be punished for it.

If you could legislate common sense, that would be one thing. What we have now, in the misguided attempt to 'protect' us by making not having common sense illegal, is a confusing and convoluted system of laws that increase the amount of time required by law enforcement to wade through pointless ordinances, stupid rules, and obscure regulations.

hip_gma 12 years, 5 months ago

Article says the law applies even in people's driveways. Is the garage considered part of the driveway? To me, outside of the garage is the driveway.

CanadianPassport 12 years, 5 months ago

Google's ad software matches ads to website content. So it is actually not a coincidence at all, just a clever ploy by Google to capitalize on what readers are interested in.

wonderhorse 12 years, 5 months ago


We live in a society that enacts laws that attempt to protect us from ourselves. Look no further than the smoking ban and fireworks ban here in Lawrence. Also, speed limits. Does anyone know the death rate on German autobahns vis-a-vis American highways (percentages, not just raw number of deaths)? Prostitution. Gambling laws. It goes on.

Anne Bracker 12 years, 5 months ago

Although I agree the law seems a bit ridiculous, I can also see where kids could get into an unattended, running car and wind up hurting themselves or others.

wishiwasabob 12 years, 5 months ago

I used to work at the post office as a carrier. We had it drilled into our heads over and over again from the very start NEVER to leave our cars running unattended because there had been several incidents of carriers' vehicles rolling away and running over kids/pets/etc. I think that things like this and jayhawkanne's suggestion are the purposes for the law, not keeping you from being stupid enough to let your car get stolen (which I am apparently stupid enough for, having left my car running in the driveway countless times).

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