Idle regard: Despite law, $25 fine, puffers a common sight in Fort Collins

10:33 AM, Dec 19, 2011   |    comments
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There's no one in the driver's seat, no one in the passenger seat. The car sits alone on a Fort Collins street, idling.

Minutes go by.

And then Nick Basaraba emerges from his house near the Colorado State University campus and prepares to get inside.

He knows he's not supposed to let his car be a "puffer'' – letting a car run unattended in Fort Collins can draw a $25 anti-puffing fine from police – but with the temperature so low, and a garage filled with stuff, he said he doesn't really have a better option.

"I just turned it on and went and brushed my teeth,'' he said.

He said allowing his car to be a puffer doesn't seem any worse than letting a car idle while at train crosses.

A block away, an older blue Buick sedan idles in a driveway, the driver's side window rolled down, an exhaust plume rising into the cold morning air.

More minutes pass before Taylor Cherney emerges and prepares to drive to work. He said he didn't know that leaving a running vehicle unattended in Fort Collins is illegal. Like Basaraba, Cherney said his garage is too full of stuff to park inside. Originally from Arkansas, Cherney said he's still getting used to cold Colorado mornings.

"I don't want to be cold all the way to work,'' he said. "This neighborhood is pretty safe. And it's kind of an older car. I'm not worried about anyone taking it.''

He should be. Each month, about 20 cars are stolen in Fort Collins, according to police spokeswoman Rita Davis. And national statistics show that 50 percent of all stolen cars had the keys inside. Davis said Fort Collins police will write tickets
for puffers, but that the department doesn't track how many of those tickets officers have given, or how many cars were running when they were stolen.

Leaving a car running and unattended is illegal in Colorado. There are exceptions for emergency vehicles such as police cars and ambulances, which are crammed with radios, computers and refrigerators.

Given that there's always a spike of vehicle thefts during cold weather, state and local officials are reminding drivers that leaving their vehicles running while unattended can result in a stolen vehicle or ticket.

"It's risky to leave your car running,'' Davis said. "It's an open invitation to thieves.''

(Copyright © 2011 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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