If you grew up in a country town, you may have witnessed a parent or grandparent leave their keys in the ignition, or on the dashboard, or under the sun visor or even just in the footwell of the driver’s side of the car.

    • You are required to secure your vehicle, including taking the car key with you
    • Taking your key means you lessen the risk of the vehicle being stolen
    • Smart keys are making this topic a different process

    It was a pretty common practice years ago, but some people still do it. And those who do may not realise they are breaking a law by doing so.

    The Australian Road Safety Rules section 213 states that you must make a vehicle secure if you stop your car. In the same way that you have to lock your car if you’re going to be more than three metres from the vehicle, the law states that you must remove the car’s key if you’re getting out.

    “Before leaving the vehicle the driver must remove the ignition key if there is no-one 16 years or older remaining in the vehicle,” the wording states. If you fail to do so, you may face a maximum penalty of 20 units, which could mean hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines.

    It all comes down to lessening the likelihood of having your vehicle stolen. And, presumably, lessening the paperwork involved in sorting out that problem from the police perspective.

    Modern cars don’t necessarily have ignition keys, and instead have a push-button starter and key fob, which may offer access to the car via a button or sensor on the outside of the door.

    It is safe to assume that the law applies to key fobs, as well as physical in the ignition barrel’ keys, so don’t go thinking that you won’t get in strife if you have a smart key system in your car.

    Further, some newer vehicles with smartphone connected apps can allow you to lock or unlock the car using your phone, and even allow access to other users remotely. That still shouldn’t be considered a grey area. A key is a key, be it on a phone, as a fob, or even with a key card like in some models. 

    In fact, most connected car apps have a reminder that will tell you if you are more than a few metres from the car and you’ve left it unlocked. 

    However, it’s pretty clear that if you happen to leave the car unlocked and running, and your smartphone with the connected-car app is left in the car, then you might still be breaching the law around leaving the car unsecured. 

    In summary, you need to take your car keys with you, and you need to make sure your car is secured when you do.

    If you don’t, and you’re caught doing the wrong thing, you can expect a fine – and if it’s anything like the rules about keeping your windows up or closed, the costs could run into the thousands of dollars.

    Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

    Matt Campbell
    Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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