You Can Legally Warm Your Car Now

The Legislature should repeal more nonsensical administrative rules in 2018

Michiganders who usually idle their cars to warm them up before driving in the winter will be pleased to know they will no longer be breaking the law by doing so.

Last winter, we reported on the case of Nick Trupiano, who was ticketed $128 for leaving his car idling unattended in his driveway, in violation of the state vehicle code. A judge upheld the ticket and agreed with the ticketing officer that the rule was justified by the public safety threat of leaving running vehicles unattended.

But in June, the Legislature easily passed a measure repealing the rule. It amended the Michigan Vehicle Code to allow drivers with remote starters to leave their car running without a key in the ignition on public streets. It also rescinded the administrative rule that prohibited drivers from leaving unattended vehicles running in private driveways.

Cities and townships may pass similar ordinances that would apply to their jurisdiction, but it seems unlikely that many will. Local government officials, unlike administrative bureaucrats, are elected and accountable to their constituents. They’re less likely to pass ordinances that would criminalize something many people do on a regular basis.

When governments establish laws that create crimes or civil violations, it is important that they do so in a transparent legislative process. Legislators did not say Michiganders could not idle their own cars in their own driveways; bureaucrats did. The prohibition was part of an ever-changing body of administrative code that binds Michiganders, even though it was not created by their representatives.

This is not a small problem – literally or metaphorically. Lawmakers have set forth over 3,100 crimes in statute, but the administrative rules and regulations that also govern our behavior number in the thousands. This means Michiganders could be in for a surprise like Trupiano’s – facing responsibility for violating a rule they did not know existed.

In the new year, lawmakers and government officials should resolve to seriously review the laws and rules that their constituents are expected to know and to follow — and remove ones that don’t directly help protect public safety.