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Can You Leave the Motor Running?

Leave the Motor Running? - Honda CR-V

Leave the Motor Running While Making a Quick Errand?

You park close to a store or post office, located in the local area you know so well. It is a hot day and you leave the motor running to keep the air conditioning going. You will be gone for five minutes, no more. What can happen?

A lot of drives have been there. Or at least had the thought. Especially when they have children or pets in the car.

But it is not only illegal to leave your car with the motor running, the consequences can be catastrophic. Heat stroke tragedies involving children change the lives of parents, families, and communities forever. Children have died in cars when the outside temperature was as low as 60 degrees.

[ Learn more about Kids and Heat Strokes ]

Heat stroke safety tips - Kids and Cars

Be Aware of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a product of your engine. It may leak into your car when you leave the engine running in a closed space or if your muffler is defective. The gas is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, which makes it difficult to detect. Carbon monoxide is toxic and may be fatal. It affects the central nervous system and heart, which could cause death.

Remember, if you return to your car, you will probably not even notice that carbon monoxide has accumulated inside the car.

carbon monoxide

[ Read more: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Facts, Symptoms, and Myths ]

Steps to Park Correctly: Make Sure Your Car is Visible

Correct parking on a public road includes moving as far away from traffic as possible. You must make sure your vehicle doesn’t interfere with traffic. If there is a roadside shoulder, pull as far onto it as you can. When you park on the paved portion of a roadway, your vehicles must be visible from either direction. Don’t park your vehicle close to a curb or the crest of a hill where it may be less visible.

Road curve in New York - Credit: Hudconja

Steps to Park Correctly: Don’t Interfere with Traffic

If there is a curb, pull close to it. State law often says that you must not park more than one foot away. In some states the limit is 18 inches. To be on the safe side, always park as close as you can.

You must park on the right-hand side of the roadway. Parking on the left side and facing traffic is illegal (unless it is a one-way street or signs say otherwise).

Make sure your vehicle cannot move. Set the parking brake and shift to park with an automatic transmission or reverse with a manual transmission. When parking on a hill, you must also turn your wheels toward the side of the road. When parking uphill on a road with a curb, the wheels should be turned the other way (away from the side of the road)

Parking on hills - California DMV illustration

[ Read more about parking on hills ]

Steps to Park Correctly: Turn Off the Engine!

Turn off the engine and lock the vehicle. It is not only dangerous to leave your vehicle with the motor running, it is also illegal.

When you are ready to exit your vehicle, check traffic behind you before getting out. Look carefully for passing vehicles, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Do not open the driver’s side door unless it is safe to do so and you do not interfere with traffic. Do not leave the door open any longer than necessary.

Remember to take the keys out of your vehicle before leaving it. Leaving the keys may violate state law.


What the Law Says

The typical law in Unites States:

No person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle shall permit it to stand unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key from the ignition, effectively setting the brake thereon, and when standing upon any grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the highway.

Another example with similar text (Texas Statutes Sec. 545.404):

Photo credits: Paul Vasarhelyi, California DMV, Xzelenz Media, Hudconja, and

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  1. never leave your car running, and not in it.

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