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Police warn drivers they could face fines for warming vehicles while unattended

Rich Kremer

Wisconsin Public Radio

Despite the frigid weather, police in some Wisconsin cities are warning drivers they could be fined for letting their cars warm up unless they’re sitting inside them.

Since 1972 it's been illegal to warm up your vehicle in Eau Claire while it’s unattended. And if your car is stolen as a result, you're likely to get a fine of more than $200 from the city.

Police Department Community Relations Officer Kyle Roder said the ordinance is aimed at preventing cars from being stolen.   

"The goal is really for people to be proactive so that they don’t become a target or a victim of crime or in this case auto theft, and unfortunately each year we do see vehicles that are stolen because they are left unsecured with the engine running and the keys in the ignition," said Roder.

In October, two vehicles were stolen in Eau Claire after being left running while unattended. He said in both cases the owners were cited.

"We do see a lot of tickets issued for this when a vehicle is stolen," said Roder. "So, unfortunately if somebody leaves their vehicle unattended with the engine running and their vehicle gets stolen they typically will get a citation for that on top of it."

Madison, Milwaukee, Chippewa Falls and La Crosse have similar ordinances that prohibit drivers from warming unattended vehicles or leaving keys in unattended cars.

Superior does, as well. According to the city's online ordinances, leaving keys in a vehicle is prohibited unless the vehicle is in an attended parking area.

The fine for leaving a vehicle running unattended in Superior is $150.10., regardless of whether it gets stolen or not.

Cars with remote car starters that won’t allow the vehicle to be put into gear, or some other version of an antitheft device are exempt from the ordinance, according to Lt. Thor Trone with the Superior Police Department.

Superior's ordinance also states that "No person shall park or leave standing any motor vehicle with the motor or refrigerator unit running for more than five minutes within 300 feet of any residence within the city between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m."

That section of the ordinance is aimed at preventing semis and trailer refrigeration units from running all night long near residences.

“However if a vehicle was loud and causing a disturbance this ordinance could be applied,” Trone said, whether it was occupied or not.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more WPR news on KUWS-FM 91.3 or Telegram reporter Maria Lockwood contributed to this report.