This is a situation that every driver can relate to. You are waiting at the red light at an intersection to turn right. You are in a rush, but the light is slow and traffic is backed up. Even worse, there is a large gravel truck in front of you that will take forever to turn and will likely cause you to miss the next green light cycle. However, there is a gas station at the corner on the right with two egresses. You could avoid waiting for the long light by simply turning into the gas station parking lot and exiting on the street where you intended to turn. What is the harm if this saves several minutes at the stop light? Is this against the law?
The answer is yes, cutting through a parking lot to avoid a traffic control device (e.g. stoplight or stop sign) is illegal. Michigan law states the following:
- “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.” MCL 257.611(1).
- “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.” MCL 257.611(2).
- “A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction” punishable by a fine. MCL 257.611(3). In addition, 2 points will be added to your Michigan driving record.
It does not matter if the detour taken to get around the stoplight is public or private property. What is the point of this law? It is to keep pedestrians and vehicular property safe. A person cutting through the parking lot is likely feeling rushed and may be driving at faster than normal speed. This increases the chances that someone can get hurt or property can be damaged. This will also decrease wear and tear on the roadway or parking lot itself. Since cutting through a parking lot to avoid a traffic light is illegal, injuring or killing someone can result in additional criminal penalties. Even if striking another person was completely accidental, it is a misdemeanor offense in Michigan to commit a moving violation causing a serious impairment of a bodily function (MCL 257.601d(2)) or a moving violation causing death (MCL 257.601d(1)).
A person accused of impeding traffic is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. This is a difficult offense for the prosecutor to enforce. The driver must have the intent to pass through public or private property to avoid the traffic control device. If the driver had a legitimate purpose of turning onto the roadway or parking lot (e.g. patronizing the gas station or business, mistakenly turned down the wrong street), then no violation was committed. For the police to strongly enforce this, they would have to be sitting in the parking lot near a traffic control device and watch you enter and exit. It is possible that the court can let you off the hook if you convince the judge or magistrate that you had a valid purpose for passing through.
Even if the evidence against you is strong, you may be able to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that involves instead pleading to a traffic offense with no points (e.g. impeding traffic). You may be able to even plead the offense down to a non-moving violation such as double parking. Since cutting through a parking lot to obstruct a traffic signal is an abstracted offense that is reported to the Michigan Secretary of State, it will be detected by your auto insurance carrier and your rates will go up. Avoiding points or a moving violation altogether can save you hundreds of dollars in future insurance premiums in the long run. A skilled traffic attorney can help guide you in making the right decision for your situation.
If you are charged with any traffic offense, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.