Local ordinances mean warming up car can be risky

Leaving running car with keys in it could cost you $118 in Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There may be nothing that says Pure Michigan more than letting the car warm up for a few minutes on those subfreezing mornings, hoping to spend a few less minutes shivering on the way to work. But depending on where you live, it could mean a ticket.

A few days ago, Nick Taylor got one such ticket for warming up his car as it sat in his driveway in Roseville, a Detroit suburb.

“I had no clue it was like a law or an ordinance,” Taylor told Detroit NBC affiliate WDIV. “I was furious when I saw it.”

“C’mon now, every person warms up their car — we live in Michigan,” he continued.

Taylor posted his experience on Facebook, along with a few less-than-friendly comments about the officer who wrote the ticket. It became an internet sensation, spreading worldwide — and sparking outrage and confusion.

Some claimed he was ticketed under a state law, based on a reading of the Michigan vehicle code. But Michigan State Police say there is no such state law, although it can be illegal to leave an unattended car on a public highway or interstate.

However, some cities do have ordinances against leaving a running car with the keys in it unattended. In West Michigan, that includes Grand Rapids.

“You have to turn the engine off, lock the ignition and remove the key,” said Grand Rapids Police Department Sgt. Terry Dixon. “So the key part to this is that the key has to be in the ignition.”

On Jan. 5, a car was left running at a gas station in the 1600 of Eastern Avenue SE  when some juveniles took it and nearly crashed the car into a home a few blocks away.

Last year, about 340 vehicles were reported stolen — nearly a vehicle a day, but about half what the number was a decade ago.

Many of those thefts are the result of a tempting set of circumstances in which the keys are left in an unlocked vehicle. It’s what prompted the ordinance in Grand Rapids.

Dixon explained the goal of the rule is to “eliminate those opportunities of opportunity.”

It’s a $118 ticket, but police say they are not looking at the ordinance as a moneymaker.

“We haven’t written any this year or last year,” Dixon said. “If we see something like that, more than likely the officer would knock on the door, provide a warning, say, ‘Hey, please turn your car off or make sure someone is in the vehicle.'”

The city ordinance does not apply to cars with remote starters, because the key is not in the car in those cases.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department and police departments in Wyoming, Kalamazoo and Muskegon say they do not have similar ordinances on the books. Still, they all advise that leaving your car running while unattended is just inviting theft.