Maryland State Police are cracking down on drivers who park their cars and leave the keys inside â€” or worse, leave their vehicles running with the keys dangling invitingly from the ignition.
They might as well tape â€śsteal meâ€ť signs to their windshields.
â€śLeaving your vehicle running is against the law, and it clearly presents an additional opportunity for people to drive off with it,â€ť said Dan Lane, public information officer for the Gaithersburg Police Department.
Those who ignore this bit of common sense face not only the probability of losing their vehicles, but also a $70 fine and one point on their licenses.
Lane said this has happened in Gaithersburg a few times over the years, most recently in April 2012 at the Grand Mart on Muddy Branch road.
â€śSomeone left his car running at a grocery store, and someone else just jumped in and drove away,â€ť Lane said. Happily, the car eventually turned up with the suspect inside.
According to an Oct. 23 Maryland State Police press release, more than 16,000 vehicles were stolen in Maryland last year. Thatâ€™s one every 33 minutes. Many of those were easy targets; more than half were unlocked, and about a third offered up the keys as well.
The problem is likely to worsen as the weather gets chillier and more people leave their cars running to warm up or to run quick errands, police say.
In fact, one of a would-be thiefâ€™s favorite tactics is to cruise neighborhoods or store parking lots looking for a driverless vehicle with telltale exhaust spewing from the tailpipe. When the hapless owner returns, it could be a long walk home.
And donâ€™t even think about leaving a child in your idling vehicle while you duck into a store for â€śjust a second.â€ť That could turn a routine car theft into a tragic kidnapping because thieves often donâ€™t look in the back seat before beating a hasty getaway.
Maryland state troopers over the next several months plan to redouble their efforts to locate unoccupied vehicles with the engines on.
Lane said the Gaithersburg Police Department will fully support the stateâ€™s initiative, although it does not intend to mount its own campaign on this issue.