|Obeying traffic laws on private property|
This week we have a question which involves the enforcement of traffic laws on private property. This is always and interesting topic. I will be quoting numerous Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) and if you would like to look them up, use the Michigan Legislature website at www.legislature.mi.gov .
J. Michael Lenninger asks if drivers have to obey a stop sign on private property, like those found at Meijer or Kohl stores.
The short story is yes, drivers should obey those traffic signs and directions found on private parking lots and roadways. Those traffic control signs are placed in those parking lots to facilitate safe traffic flow and to protect pedestrians.
That being said, can the police enforce traffic laws in private parking lots and on private roadways? The short answer is mostly no. Most traffic laws can only be enforced on public roads.
The Michigan Traffic Code defines what is public, what is private and many other things and terms. Most of those definitions start at Michigan Compiled Law (MCL) 257.1 and ends at MCL 257.82. For instance “Highway or street” is defined by MCL 257.20 and MCL257.64 and “Private Road” is defined by MCL 257.44
For instance stopping at stop signs, on a public road, is detailed in MCL 257.749(6) which states, “Except when directed to proceed by a police officer, the driver of a vehicle approaching a stop intersection indicated by a stop sign shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection, or if there is not a crosswalk shall stop at a clearly marked stop line; or if there is not a crosswalk or a clearly marked stop line, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway. After having stopped, the driver shall yield the right of way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from another highway or which is approaching so closely on the highway as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time when the driver would be moving across or within the intersection.”
There are exceptions to every rule and there are a couple of traffic laws which can be enforced on private property.
One of those exceptions is MCL 257.626, Reckless Driving. MCL 257.626 which states in part, “(2) Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or a frozen public lake, stream, or pond or other place open to the general public, including, but not limited to, an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.”
One of the other exceptions is MCL 257.625 the drunk driving law which states, “(1) A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated….”
As you can see both the Reckless Driving and Drunk Driving laws specifically state “Open to the general public….” or “area designated for the parking of vehicles…” which would include private property.
Reckless Driving and Drunk Driving are not a traffic offense; they are crimes for which the driver can go to jail, a large fine, possibility of the vehicle being forfeited, six points to the driving record, a criminal record. All this heart burn, because a driver made poor choices or was behaving badly.
Any officer called to investigate a traffic complaint in a parking lot or on other private property will investigate and take in the “totality of the circumstances” before taking any action.
I have been asked; what is the strangest thing I have found on a person. I’ve found guns, drugs, stolen property and other assorted odds and ends but the strangest item. That would be a boa constrictor wrapped three times around a man’s waist. Well, after we both composed ourselves, the man informed me he was just keeping his pet boa warm. And let me just say, this is the type of thing you should tell a police officer, before they search you.