Is it safe to leave a manual transmission in neutral at a stop light?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently got your pamphlet and read about how to make your clutch last longer. One of the things you said is to put the car in Neutral and let the clutch out while sitting at a stop light. I was under the impression that it's illegal to do that. The reason being if someone hits your car and you lose control, the car will roll until you hit something or someone. If the clutch is held in with the car in gear and you get hit, your foot will pop off the clutch quickly, the engine would stall, and the car would stop moving. Please comment.

TOM: Illegal? Everybody knows you can do anything you want in the privacy of your own car, Brian, as long as you have consenting auto parts.....and smoked glass windows.

RAY: I can see where you came up with this, though. You're thinking about a situation where you get rammed from behind. Like when you're sitting at a light, and a milk truck hits you doing 70 mph...the ones that say "We stop at all railroad crossings.....but nothing else!"

TOM: And when that truck hits you and your head ends up in the back seat, you think it would be better if the car were to stall out and stop by itself.

RAY: Unfortunately, it's just as likely NOT to stall as it is TO stall in that situation. In fact, the momentum could easily be enough to START a manual transmission car that's in gear (you've heard of a roll start, right?).

TOM: And as far as we know, there's nothing illegal about putting your stick shift in Neutral at a stop light, any more than it's illegal to leave an automatic transmission in Drive.

RAY: So I'd relax if I were you, Brian. I don't think anybody's trying to see what you're doing with your feet while you're sitting at stop lights. And for goodness sakes, stop wearing that cloak and dark glasses when you drive.

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