Is It Legal To Leave Your Car Door Unlocked?

Is It Legal To Leave Your Car Door Unlocked?

Picture this: you wake up and realise you’re out of milk for your crucial morning coffee. Bugger. You grab your keys, pop into your car, drive down to the shops, jump out of your car without locking it and dash in to get your glorious carton of milk. Believe it or not, you’ve just broken the law.

Woman with car from Shutterstock

There are a lot of whacky vehicle related laws so I’ll just cut to the chase (see what I did there?) — it is illegal in some states in Australia to leave your car door unlocked when you’re a certain distance away from it. The East cost of Australia is unfortunate enough to be subjected to this rule.

In NSW, under Road Rules 2014 – regulation 213, section five:

“If the driver will be over 3 metres from the closet part of the vehicle and there is no-one left in the vehicle, the driver must:

(a) if the windows of the vehicle can be secured, secure the windows immediately before leaving the vehicle, and (b) if the doors of the vehicle can be locked, lock the doors immediately after leaving the vehicle.

You will notice that even leaving a window open in an unattended car is also illegal, but if it’s open by less than 2cm, then it’s fine.

In Victoria, under Road Safety Road Rules 2009 penalty code 2135, it is illegal to leave “motor vehicle unattended with keys in ignition, motor running, brakes not secured or doors unlocked.” There have been reports of people being fined around $150 for leaving their cars unlocked in the past.

Over in Queensland, under Sectioin 213 Transport Operations (road Use Management – Road Rules) Regulation 2009, you will get a $44 on-the-spot fine for not securing your vehicle or removing the key from the ignition before you walk away from it.

While these laws do sound a bit silly, the whole point of them, according to police departments across all three states is to reduce theft. You don’t want to come back from getting some quick groceries only to find someone has stolen your expensive sunglasses from the glove box or worse, your car stolen. While this is a bummer for you, it also ties up police resources on a crime that could have been easily avoided.

So remember folks, if you leave your car, make sure you lock it up. Even if nothing gets stolen you could still end up with a hefty fine.

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • But if you own a convertible, you are allowed to leave the roof open.

    Just like how you’re not allowed to use your fog lights during the day, but by all means, leave your headlights on.

    • That’s because fog lights are often not directional and can shine unpredictably and be distracting. They are also sometimes a different colour because people think that better penetrates fog. They’re really designed to only be used in foggy conditions, whereas it’s perfectly safe, if not safer to use your regular lights during the day.

    • Headlights on is a safety feature. It should be mandatory that headlights are hardwired ON, like it has been in California for many years. It has been shown to reduce accidents significantly by making vehicles more visible.

      Without hardwired headlights, what still astounds me is the number of people who don’t turn their lights on during poor driving conditions. Apparently they think that headlights are only for their own purposes, not for other road users to be able to see them.

      • The only think worse not turning headlights on in poor conditions is turning on just the parking lights, so the driver can see the dash but are useless for others seeing you. Then they’re even less likely to turn on their headlights when it gets darker in the city, because they can see their dash just fine. Gone to all the extreme effort of moving the arm to turn the lights on one click, but one more click is just too much apparently.
        I mean, FFS, they’re called PARKING lights.

  • Part (1) of the rules says:

    (1) This rule applies to the driver of a motor vehicle who stops and leaves the vehicle on a road,

    So the article doesn’t apply if you forget to lock your car in a shopping centre carpark? How about in your own garage at home? Car park at work?

    • You need to look at the definition of a ‘road’ or ‘road related area’ under the RSA. A road is just not your normal road. There is a definition and a lot of case law about it.
      It does apply at car parks and shopping centres in a lot of cases.

      It doesn’t apply at your house if you are parked on your own land.

    • The definition of a road includes a “road related area”, which includes public shopping centres and your work’s car park (assuming that they have visitor or customer parking) but not your private garage at home.

      Here’s the nitty gritty of it.
      Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) section 5:
      Each reference in this Act (except in this Part) to a road includes a reference to a road related area, unless otherwise expressly stated in this Act.

      Section 4 provides the definition:
      road related area means:

      (a) an area that divides a road, or
      (b) a footpath or nature strip adjacent to a road, or
      (c) an area that is open to the public and is designated for use by cyclists or animals, or
      (d) an area that is not a road and that is open to or used by the public for driving, riding or parking vehicles, or
      (e) a shoulder of a road, or
      (f) any other area that is open to or used by the public and that has been declared under section 18 to be an area to which specified provisions of this Act or the statutory rules apply.

  • This has a lot to do with insurance, insurers won’t insure an event that is illegal, makes it easy for them to reject a claim for stolen items from an unsecured vehicle.

  • I used to live on a dodgy street in St Kilda. It was common practice to leave your car unlocked overnight. It allowed people to search your car for valuables without breaking your window. I don’t believe any cars were stolen, but there were plenty of broken windows.

    • Totally agree with this, and was going to make a similar comment… Depending on the area, I’d much rather a junky rummage through my empty car, rather than break windows, locks, etc., still get nothing and leave me with a hefty bill.

      Technically, the law should be that you’re not allowed to leave valuables in your car, either locked or unlocked; thus preventing theft, as well as preventing property damage.

      When I park in a dodgy neighbourhood, I leave a note with my phone number on my windshield advising would be thiefs not to break into my car looking for loose change, but to give me a call, and I’ll give ’em ten bucks to save me the trouble of replacing a window.

      Funny thing is, they never call.,..

  • Just in case anyone is curious in NSW the ticket is currently worth $106.

    Generally the infringement used to be used on people who engage in a vehicle pursuit from the cops then dump their vehicle and run leaving their vehicle unlocked. Sometimes they leave their engine running which costs another $106, and they don’t put the handbrake on either which is another $106.

    Though in NSW these days the above infringements get issued less since the introduction of the indictable offence of ‘engage in police pursuit’ commonly known as “Skye’s law”. Before the introduction of that offence, if the manner of driving wasn’t dangerous or negligent it was not a criminal offence to engage in a pursuit with police.

    Also, if you report your unlocked car broken into to the cops you will NOT get a ticket. Cops want to know you’ve been broken into so they know where the crooks are so they can patrol hot spots.

  • How interesting, thanks Spandas. I’ve been guilty of this on occasion.

    The East cost of Australia is […].
    This should probably ‘east coast’. East isn’t a name in this instance, it is a geographical region.

  • People with their fog lights on are my pet driving peeve. I have a low down sports car. Even a standard sedan with its fogs on can blind me. Worse is that so many of them are big 4wd. Those fog lights burn a hole through my brain. It’s horrid. Police don’t give a shit though. See them drive past cops all the time. Never seen one pulled over. Cops are too busy ‘randomly’ breath testing me. Odd that I’ve never been rbt before the sports car and now its frequent. Yet to have a driving offence of any kind.

  • Regarding your flippant statement of “Wacky Vehicle related Laws”

    I don’t think the police would or should give two hoots about someone having their sunnies stolen if they’re dumb enough not to take the most basic precautions to protect their propert when the ACTUAL ISSUE is that they have left a vehicle that can be easily stolen (when keys are in the ignition and the engine running! MOST COURIER AND DELIVERY DRIVERS I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU!!!) and used to commit serious crime. Such as ram raiding a shop or business, or mowing down a pedestrian(s) or cyclist(s), as a get away vehicle for a robbery or hell kidnapping someone to rape and or murder them, then dump the vehicle and set fire to it to destroy the evident & CORPSE(S).

    …which I’m pretty sure the police ARE GOING TO MAKE TIME TO DEAL WITH!!
    But sadly, charging the stupid driver who left said vehicle a pissy little fine after the fact, if the vehicle is even ever found can’t undo the above mentioned horrific crimes they unabled someone else to to do because they were too lazy or in a hurry to bother with !!!!

    Please always lock your vehicle securely with the keys on you. It’s a no-brainer.

  • I would be more interested in the statistics of how often this Penalty has been issued?
    and how often has the charge been leveraged after the citizen was stopped for another reason?

    I read a story of a man from Woollahra, Sydney who stopped at a Petrol Station and got stopped by an officer after going in to pay, he got nailed with this penalty… after he passed a alcohol and drug test AND a vehicle inspection. So he got slapped with this as a consolation penalty by the officer… which is frankly petty and an abuse of police power to fish for a reason to penalise someone.

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