My Two Cents: All cylinders not firing on proposed idling ordinance

All good intentions aside, the Tacoma City Council’s consideration tonight of an ordinance that would make it a parking infraction to leave a vehicle idling unattended on private property strikes me as the wrong way to reduce the city’s high rate of car theft.

This misguided ordinance is a response to a very real problem. According to a report released late last year by the National Insurance Crime Bureua, Tacoma ranks tenth in terms of automobile thefts per 100,000 people. Tacoma police report that approximately 10 percent of the over 3,200 vehicles stolen in the city in 2002 were idling.

Nevertheless, an ordinance that essentially blames the victim hardly seems the way to go, and risks creating a public backlash. (Imagine the ugly spectre of a police officer taking a stolen vehicle report from a distraught motorist, only to to follow up by issuing a ticket to the already traumatized victim.)

Officials – police and those City Council members in favor of the ordinance – have downplayed the role of tickets. They insist the point of the ordinance is to educate the public. If that’s true, why not simply conduct a public awareness/education campaign about the risks of leaving your car idling unattended on private property?

Combating car theft is certainly a laudable goal for the city, but this proposed ordinance is just the latest example of government going too far – prescribing legal sanctions – in an attempt to compel people to do the right thing.

For example, education on the dangers of smoking has cut way down on the number of people who engage in the habit, yet the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health still felt the need to impose a legally questionable indoor smoking ban on all privately-owned businesses in the county.

Everyone knows wearing your seat belt is a good idea, but that wasn’t enough for the state Legislature, which last year gave police the power to pull over and ticket people (adults) who don’t buckle up.

Leaving your car idling and otherwise unsecured – even on private property – in Tacoma is probably unwise. Not being smart, however, should not be made a ticketable offense. Punishment should be reserved for those who actually steal vehicles.

“My Two Cents” is a weekly column where the author – who favors actually enforcing car theft laws – gets in his two cents worth in spite of the old saying that you only get a penny for your thoughts.