Have you ever cranked up your car on a frigid morning and left it unattended while the engine warms? Well, you broke the law, and it's punishable by a $40 fine and a point on your driving record.
Section 21-1101 of Maryland's Vehicle Law says: "A person driving or otherwise in charge of a motor vehicle may not leave it unattended until the engine is stopped, the ignition locked, the key removed, and the brake effectively set."
A random survey of Maryland State Police and some Baltimore-area police departments shows that the law is spottily enforced. But as long as it's on the books, it looms as a potential headache for any unsuspecting motorist.
Lt. Greg Shipley, a spokesman for the state police, says the law is aimed at cutting down on thefts.
"That's where it's most frustrating for police officers. It's very easy for someone to steal the car at that point," he said.
Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, the Baltimore County Police Department spokesman, said that department does not have a policy calling for strict enforcement of the law, but offenders may be ticketed at the discretion of officers.
Sergeant Doarnberger said he thought it was unlikely that an officer would issue a ticket to a car theft victim.
"I think most officers feel if you've had your car stolen that's punishment enough," he said.
Sam Ringgold, the director of public information for Baltimore police, said city officers have "more pressing issues" to deal with than ticketing motorists who leave their cars unattended while the engines are running.
Mr. Ringgold's sentiments were shared by Maj. Bert Shirey, commander of the Northeastern District.
"We don't have any particular policy on it," said Major Shirey. "As far as I know, we have not given any tickets for warming up a car. We advise against it, because it's too easy to pop the lock and steal the car."
Major Shirey recalled a recent car theft that occurred when keys were left in a vehicle as it warmed up in the 1300 block of Walker Ave. in the city.
Sgt. Steven Keller, a spokesman for the Howard County Police Department, said his department takes the law seriously.
"We do write tickets. The law is enforced," he said.
People who leave their cars unattended to warm up aren't the only violators of the law.
"The officers are most likely to encounter unattended cars when motorists run into a 7-Eleven to get a cup of coffee," said Sergeant Keller.
Mr. Ringgold said, "It's something motorists need to be mindful of -- that if they leave the car unattended, they're opening themselves up for theft."
First Sgt. Nina Hook, a state trooper at the Waterloo barracks, said she wouldn't be surprised if most of her colleagues let offenders off with a warning.
"But I have personally given out tickets for that," she added.