Is there ever a good reason to leave your car unlocked with the keys inside? Probably not. But most drivers have done it, even though your vehicle is a prime target for thieves. But when a car does get stolen, who should be held responsible? The easy answer is the thief. And of course, laws across the country invariably consider grand theft auto a notable crime.
Nevertheless, accountability for vehicle theft is not always as clear as it might seem. A proposed law in Florida would potentially hand out jail time for wayward car owners who, by their negligence, made their vehicles easy targets for juvenile car thieves. The proposal would make the seeming lapse in judgment of leaving one’s keys in the car worthy of a second degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. For what it’s worth, grand theft auto in Florida is a third degree felony, making it worse to actually steal the car than have it stolen from you.
The proposed law ultimately raises a question regarding responsibility for car owners. In many scenarios, negligence leading to some form of accident is already considered a criminal offense. Falling asleep at the wheel, for example, would likely result in a reckless driving charge in many places. And if you happen to run into something in the process, the penalty would be even more severe.
Florida’s proposed law may seem extreme, but the Sunshine State is not alone in wanting to make this type of negligence illegal. A similar law exists in Texas, for example, although the consequences are slightly less severe. In that state, fines may be up to $200, while car owners could face up to 30 days in jail.
And unlike Florida, the Texas law states that, should your car be stolen due to keys left in the ignition, your insurance would not be responsible for coverage. The proposed Florida bill doesn’t specify insurance responsibility. The Texas law doesn’t limit the consequences to just juvenile-stolen vehicles, either.
States like Florida and Texas have good reason to be concerned. A 2015 study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau shows car thefts from keys left in the car are rising. There were more than 57,000 cars stolen due to unlocked doors or the keys or key fobs left inside in 2015, 31% more than in 2013. In the wrong hands, they could be used as weapons, or accidentally result in death when driven carelessly.
Additionally, most states already have laws in place that make it illegal to leave your car running unattended. Often called anti-idling laws, these ordinances are usually based on environmental concerns, but they’re two parts of the same coin. Many people who leave their cars running also leave them unlocked. As such, there’s an element of negligence involved that concerns authorities beyond just excess carbon dioxide.
Still not convinced to leave your car doors locked? A big consideration should be whether it’s worth the cost. Beyond just the potential for fines, car insurance providers may be reluctant when it comes to providing compensation following negligent thefts. Generally, car insurance is designed to pay out to another individual if you’re found to be at-fault for an accident. You can usually expect your insurance rate to go up afterward. Following a car theft, you may not be responsible for any accidents or damages that occur, but at a minimum, you could still be on the hook for higher insurance rates.
Even with the cold winter months making a cold car a bit of a hassle, warming up the car while you wait inside is probably not worth the few minutes you might save in the process. The cost to install a remote starter is certainly much less damaging than potential jail time and fines.