Idle threat: Police warn of car thefts, idling law during cold weather

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Police officials are warning drivers about the risks of car theft if they leave their vehicles running in cold temperatures, the Star Tribune reports.

Minneapolis Police Department Public Information Officer John Elder says the department saw a spike in thefts earlier this month as drivers left their doors unlocked and cars running to warm up during the cold snap.

Elder said the only safe way to combat car thieves is to use remote car starters. Such systems will not allow cars to move without keys in the ignition.

There is another bonus to remote starters: They're actually legal. Turning on the car with keys, then leaving it to idle unoccupied while it warms up, is against the law.

A Minneapolis city ordinance says if a vehicle is running with keys in it on a city street, parkway, alley or the equivalent of such, the driver must be inside the car or be "in physical control" of the vehicle.

The Minneapolis ordinance about idling cars went into effect in 2008 as a way to prevent harmful emissions.

"Exhaust from an idling car carries a higher load of pollutants than a moving car, so reducing unnecessary idling is one easy way we can all do something to improve air quality," the ordinance states.

The cities of St. Paul and Bloomington, however, do not have laws against idling cars, the Star Tribune says.

The blog Engines Off lists the few cities across the country that have anti-idling ordinances, including Denver, Washington, D.C., and Park City, Utah.

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