Do you leave your keys in the car and walk away?

Everyone tells you what might happen if you leave your keys in the car and walk away. Someone says they always do it and nothing ever happens. But Budget Direct claims 18% of car thefts happen when keys are left in the ignition. Meanwhile, the Australian Road Rules take a clear position on leaving your keys in the car – don’t do it.

What Australian Road Rules say

In NSW, police can fine you $112 for offences where you’ve left keys in the car and walked away:

Offences Fine
Leave engine on $112
Not remove keys (vehicle unattended) $112
Not secure windows/lock doors (vehicle unattended) $112

Source: General driving offences, September 2018

In Queensland, police can fine you $40 if you walk more than 3m away without locking your car and if windows are wound down more than 5cm.

These rules may seem obscure and petty. But police in North Wollongong recently ran a check of unlocked cars for valuables and found some pretty surprising items in them. In this case, they issued warnings rather than fines. But inviting theft creates unnecessary work for the police.

Inviting theft also creates work for car insurers and costs them money – but only if they accept your claim.

Take reasonable precautions

Insurers expect you to take reasonable precautions to prevent loss or damage of your vehicle. If your vehicle is unlocked and unattended, with keys in the ignition in a busy petrol station, are you taking a reasonable precaution? It may not be reasonable to claim if your valuables are stolen from inside that unlocked vehicle.

Most vehicle policies state drivers must take all reasonable steps to protect the vehicle from loss or damage. Insurers can also reject a claim if you have acted in a reckless manner.

Your day in court

While insurers have these types of exclusion policies, the court interprets them strictly and can reject a particular clause. For example, you leave your vehicle unlocked and unattended with keys in the ignition while you go to pay for petrol. An insurance clause may say there is no cover for car theft if you leave your car unlocked. But will they regard a petrol station as a public place?

In the end, it may be better to take control where you can and not risk a battle later on. Wise drivers will close up and lock up before they walk away.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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