It’s Illegal in Texas to Leave Your Car Running Unattended [UPDATED]
With blistering cold temperatures all across Texas right now, it’s tempting to get a head start on the window defrosting and run out to start the car and warm it up before heading out for the day; however, you may want to rethink that plan.
In Texas, and many other states, it’s against the law to start your car and leave it unattended with the keys in the ignition. Not only could you be left filing a police report because your car got stolen, but you could also be slapped with a ticket for up to $500 as it’s a Class C misdemeanor.
Of course, this law does not apply if you use a remote starter and your vehicle requires the key to be present in the vehicle or in the ignition before the vehicle can be operated.
The main purpose of the law is to prevent vehicle owners from becoming victims. Thieves will use the freezing cold temps to their advantage, looking for puffs of exhaust coming from unattended vehicles, whether it be in your driveway, at work, or at the gas station.
According to the FBI, there are roughly 500,000 cars stolen during a given year and up to half of those incidents can be blamed on driver error — like leaving your car running unattended with the keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked.
If having your car stolen wasn’t bad enough, some insurance companies will leave you out in the cold and deny coverage for a stolen vehicle that had the keys in the ignition because you did not take reasonable care with your car.
So next time you want to get ahead of Old Man Winter and run outside to warm up your car and run back inside to finish getting ready, remember, it’s better to have a cold car than no car. And for heaven’s sake, NEVER leave kids in the car unattended, even if you just want them to stay warm while you run into the store real quick.
Here’s the section of the Texas Transportation Code that deals with unattended vehicles for reference:
Sec. 545.404. UNATTENDED MOTOR VEHICLE. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), an operator may not leave a vehicle unattended without:
(1) stopping the engine;
(2) locking the ignition;
(3) removing the key from the ignition;
(4) setting the parking brake effectively; and
(5) if standing on a grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the highway.
(b) The requirements of Subsections (a)(1), (2), and (3) do not apply to an operator who starts the engine of a vehicle by using a remote starter or other similar device that:
(1) remotely starts the vehicle’s engine without placing the key in the ignition; and
(2) requires the key to be placed in the ignition or physically present in the vehicle before the vehicle can be operated.
UPDATE: It appears as though the above traffic law may only apply to vehicles parked on public highways or streets and is not necessarily enforceable on private property, such as your driveway. The section of the Texas Transportation code that deals with applicability reads as follows:
Sec. 542.001. VEHICLES ON HIGHWAYS. A provision of this subtitle relating to the operation of a vehicle applies only to the operation of a vehicle on a highway unless the provision specifically applies to a different place.
However, some cities have reportedly closed this loophole by amending their city code with an ordinance making it illegal to leave your car running on any public street or private property with the key in the ignition. We were unable to locate such an ordinance in Wichita Falls, but a thief doesn’t really care where you leave your car running, they’ll take it where they can get it.
BONUS: Dumb Texas Laws That Will Make You Say, “Huh?”