kids polo Is it illegal to cut through a parking lot to avoid a red light
Some of the most popular Traffic Talk installments have involved territory in which motorists have more freedom than conventional wisdom, intuition or hearsay suggest would be the case.
To wit: There is no law against texting while stopped at a red light or driving while wearing earbuds. Radar detectors are not illegal. Contrary to urban legend, it is legal to drive while barefoot, and so on.
Today’s topic, though, is a case in which the received wisdom and the law are very much in alignment lot cutting to avoid stopping at a red light. A reader named Pete recently sent the following question:
I’m wondering about laws that may apply to cutting through parking lots to avoid waiting at a traffic signal. Case in point: I recently was eastbound on 28th Street at Patterson [in Grand Rapids], wanting to turn north, and the light was changing. A driver just ahead of me zipped into the Hilton parking lot, swung north, and exited the north driveway to avoid the wait at the light. He was long gone before my light changed. I’ve seen similar actions at the same location for right turn drivers (southbound/westbound). I’m pretty sure this is not allowed, but don’t think I’ve ever seen a discussion of laws on this, and whether enforcement action is ever taken.
I, and surely a lot of other motorists, have wondered the same thing. After all, there is a Facebook page for it, which means cutting through a parking lot to avoid a red light when you want to make a right turn is Officially a Thing. Well, wonder no more.
is an easy one, said Sgt. Jill Bennett, one of our experts with the Michigan State Police Traffic Services Section. “Yes, it is illegal to cut across private property to avoid a traffic control device.”
She pointed me to that, lo and behold, addresses parking lot cutting with a directness that suggests it was enough of a problem for a law to be enacted in the first place:
(1) The driver of a vehicle or operator of a streetcar shall not disobey the instructions of a traffic control device placed in accordance with this chapter unless at the time otherwise directed by a police officer.
(2) The driver of a vehicle shall not,
for the purpose of avoiding obedience to a traffic control device placed in accordance with this chapter, drive upon or through private property, or upon or through public property which is not a street or highway.
(3) A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction.
And different states have different rules for it. Just to name a few: Lot cutting is legal in California if no other laws are violated. It is illegal in New Jersey, and in Illinois, where law explicitly makes it illegal to “to leave the roadway and travel across private property to avoid an official traffic control device.”
Responding to a similar question in a newspaper column (from which we absolutely did not steal the idea for Traffic Talk), a police officer in Washington explained that it wasn’t expressly illegal in that state, but several municipalities had ordinances against it.
But even if the law is clear, it’s not always easy to enforce, the officer pointed out. An officer would have to witness the violation, and since this kind of behavior occurs, almost by definition, at busy intersections, there is a good chance of the motorist cutting through a gas station (which, also by definition, tend to be located at busy intersections). There, it could be hard to tell if a cut is happening, or if a motorist is pulling into a lot or station for a legitimate reason.
So, conceivably, if you’re a lot cutter, you could argue you just happened to pull into a gas station and just happened to change your mind and just happened to be turning right out of the lot anyway. Or you could wait two minutes for the light to change, but, hey,
it’s your commute.