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As we approach winter, the act of leaving a car running while unattended becomes more common. This may seem like an innocent and practical solution to avoid a frosty windshield, but is it legal to do so? The answer varies depending on the state or country you’re in. In this article, we will explore the legality and safety issues of leaving your vehicle running.

The Legalities

There are a handful of states in the US that prohibit leaving a car running unattended. This includes states like Colorado, Ohio, and Indiana. In these locations, you may be cited for a misdemeanor offense and face a hefty fine. However, other states merely have advisories against the act, without specific legal consequences. The penalties for such an offense can range from a small fine to even imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the violation.

The reasons behind such strict laws are not just convenience-related. Unattended cars pose a safety risk to the public. A running engine is prone to theft, and unscrupulous individuals may seize the opportunity and steal the car with ease. The car’s ignition keys must be removed when it is unattended. Therefore, discussing the legality of leaving a car running should also go hand in hand with the importance of securing your vehicle correctly.

An additional factor to consider is the environmental impact of leaving a car idling. The emissions from a vehicle’s engine while idle significantly contribute to air pollution, a growing concern across the globe. Therefore, certain cities like New York have regulations and penalties in place for individuals found to be leaving their vehicles running.

The Safety Risks

Leaving a car running unattended poses safety concerns as well. An unattended car with the keys inside may entice children or pets to get into the car and accidentally put it in motion. This can lead to severe accidents, injuries, or even deaths. Also, a car running while unattended increases the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can cause serious illness or even death. It is essential to consider the aspects of safety when leaving a car running, especially in public areas where children or animals may be present.

The Exceptions

Although illegal in many states, exceptions exist when it comes to leaving a car running. For instance, emergency vehicles may be left running while responding to an emergency. In remote areas with extreme weather conditions, some people may be allowed to leave the engine running to ensure heat or air conditioning while awaiting rescue. In extreme situations, leaving a car running might be the difference between life and death.

The Alternatives

With the legal issues, safety risks, and environmental impact, you may wonder what viable alternatives exist. One option is to use a remote starter that allows you to warm up the car from inside, without the need to leave the engine running. Another is to invest in a windshield cover to avoid frost buildup, eliminating the need to idle the engine. Anytime you consider leaving your car unattended, it is wise to consider the drawbacks and take precautions.


Considering all the elements outlined in this article, it is vital to think twice before leaving a car running unattended. The act poses safety risks, environmental concerns, and legal implications, thus making it inadvisable. Always err on the side of caution and explore alternative methods of warming up your car during cold weather, or seek refuge in extreme conditions. Let’s all contribute to improving air quality, reducing the risk of vehicle theft, and preventing accidents.


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