This New Florida Bill Would Make It Illegal to Have Your Car Stolen
Florida lawmakers are pushing a new bill that would make it illegal to have your car stolen if you haven’t bothered to take the keys out of the ignition. While accidentally prepping a car for prospective thieves is easily one of the dumbest things you can do, making it illegal to leave it running while you pop in to buy a pack of gum sets us up for a nice slippery slope argument.
Last week, State Representative Wengay Newton and Senator Perry Thurston introduced matching proposals (House Bill 927 and Senate Bill 1112) that would make leaving your car unattended without stopping the engine, locking the ignition, and removing the key a second-degree misdemeanor. Under the Florida statute, the crime would be punishable with a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.
“This is ground zero. There’s no more cars stolen anywhere in the state, then they are right here in St. Petersburg,” Newton told WFTS in an interview. “Shut your engine off, lock your engine, and take your keys. There’s a good chance when you get back out there, your car might be there.”
Local officials have been less enthusiastic about the plan, despite the high rate of theft in the area. “I think we need to come up with another solution, whether it be a fine or even call the insurance company. If your car is $20,000 and you leave the keys in it, maybe the insurance company should only pay you $10,000 so you are both held responsible,” said St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
While I’m not sure if losing out on several thousand dollars’ worth of insurance money is really better than a $500 fine, it’s understandable that Holloway wants to avoid turning victimized citizens into criminals. He elaborated further in the Tampa Bay Times, stating, “They’re already a victim, and we’re going to charge you now? People won’t report it, or they’ll lie to us.”
However, Newton remains convinced that this new bill is the perfect solution to a problem he claims has run amok. “Juveniles are crashing into people, killing themselves,” said Newton. “I look back at the beginning and say, but for the keys being left in the vehicle and this crime of opportunity prevailing itself, we wouldn’t have stolen cars and these crashes.”
“What I’m trying to do is close this floodgate of a crime of opportunity that is permitting these juveniles to get access to cars,” Newton concluded.
Leaving your car running while unattended will already warrant you a ticket in most locations. But police typically ignore issuing those citations when someone’s car is already stolen, possibly because the punishment pales in comparison to the embarrassment of having your car stolen for such a dumb reason.
Pinellas County arrested juveniles 499 times for stealing cars in 2015, which was more than anywhere else in Florida and exceptionally high compared to other parts of the country. It’s become a serious issue for locals, especially since the Tampa Bay Times ran numerous stories suggesting most cars stolen by teens were left unlocked by their owners with the keys inside.
Despite the public outcry for a fix, law enforcement doesn’t appear to be supportive of the proposals. Chief Holloway has already expressed his dissatisfaction with the bill — a sentiment echoed by other agencies in the region. Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter said that, while he admired Newton’s intentions, he wouldn’t back the legislation. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to charge a victim for a crime,” Slaughter explained. “When we’re trying to build trust in the community, it wouldn’t really breed a culture of trust between victims and law enforcement.”
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri also has no intention of supporting Newton. “Where do we stop? If you leave your front door unlocked and someone breaks into your house, are you now going to be guilty of a crime?” he said. “It’s most definitely not a priority.”
Either way, we cannot stress enough how good of an idea it is to remove your keys from the vehicle any time you decide to leave it unattended. Entrust car theft to the professionals and help stop exceptionally stupid teens from committing crimes of opportunity by doing your part.
Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.
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