The Sacramento ordinance used to arrest a man earlier this month after he left his car running at a South Land Park 7-Eleven was passed more than 50 years ago, following a warning from the city's then-police chief of an increase in car thefts, archived Sacramento City Council documents show.
Craig Williams was arrested on May 4 after he allegedly left his car running while stopping at a South Land Park 7-Eleven. But officials announced Monday they were not going to file charges against him. Williams was suspected of resisting arrest and leaving "the ignition key in an unattended vehicle," police said. The Sacramento Police Department released body-worn camera footage and surveillance video of the incident days later.
Williams' lawyer, Justin Ward, told reporters it appeared his client did not believe the idling ordinance was a real law.
It is. The code was passed by city leaders on July 13, 1967, and came into effect the following month.
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In March of that year, the Sacramento city manager presented a report from the police chief that warned of a surge in car thefts within the city limits.
The report recommended enacting an ordinance barring drivers from leaving their keys in the ignition of parked cars. The crime was classified as a misdemeanor.
The passage of the city code coincided with a national campaign by the U.S. Department of Justice to curb auto thefts, a September 1967 article in The Sacramento Bee reported. More than 500,000 cars were stolen the year before, the article said.
"It all boils down to just one basic guideline: Whenever you park, remove the ignition key and lock your car."
Unlike the state law, the Sacramento City Code specifically bans motorists from leaving a car idle in both public and private parking lots, as well as new car lots. Drivers who are arrested under the city code today can expect to pay a $47.50 fine, a clerk working at the Sacramento Revenue Division said.
The statewide version of the rule dates back to 1923, California State Archives show. Related documents showing what prompted California legislators to introduce the law were not available at the State Archives because they were likely not collected at that time, an archivist there said.
The law at that time read: “Motor vehicles left unattended — brakes to be set and engine stopped. No person having control or charge of a motor vehicle shall allow such vehicle to stand on any public highway unattended without first effectively setting the brakes thereon and stopping the motor of said vehicle.”
In April of the same year, Mary Latky, a Winters resident, was struck and pinned under a car while she picked up groceries at a Sacramento store. The car’s owner, Fred Wolfe, an employee of the same store, left the car running and parked on an incline as he retrieved a package inside, California Court of Appeals documents showed.
Wolfe then “heard a cry, turned around and tried to jump on to his moving automobile to stop it, but could not do so,” the documents said.
He was ordered to pay Latky $9,000 in the subsequent case, with the jury finding that he was negligent in leaving his car parked and running on an incline. The appeals court upheld their decision.
The law was later re-enacted as Vehicle Code 595 in 1935 with similar language and no significant changes, according to the archival records. It was later re-coded in February 1959.
A 1986 bill added language that also barred non-motor vehicles, like trailers, from being parked on highways without brakes. The law has remained the same since then. Certain emergency vehicles are exempted from the law during the course of their work today.
Other cities have passed their own car idling laws, though those recent efforts appear to be motivated by environmental concerns.
Palo Alto City Council members, for instance, passed their version of a car idling ordinance last summer to further their goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, The Mercury News reported.