Generally, police officers have unfettered authority to stop drivers and issue citations for traffic violations occurring on public roadways. But what if the traffic violation occurs on privately maintained roads or private property? If you run a stop sign in a shopping mall parking lot, can you be issued a ticket? Can you be pulled over for speeding on a private drive? The answer: It depends.
Chapter 6 of the Michigan Vehicle Code (Obedience To And Effect To Traffic Laws) states “[t]he provisions of this chapter relating to the operation of vehicles refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon highways except where a different place is specifically referred to in a given section.” MCL 257.601. “Highway or street” means “the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” MCL 257.20. Private roads and private property are not publicly maintained by taxpayer dollars. “Private road” means “a privately owned and maintained road, allowing access to more than 1 residence or place of business, which is normally open to the public and upon which persons other than the owners located thereon may also travel.” MCL 257.44. Generally speaking, traffic violations are only enforceable on public roadways unless the Michigan Vehicle Code provides an exception that it may be enforced elsewhere.
In fact, there are several provisions of the Michigan Vehicle Code enforceable on private roads and private property that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- OPERATING WHILE INTOXICATED: “A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle on 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.” MCL 257.625(1).
- OPERATING WHILE VISIBLY IMPAIRED: “A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle on 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 when, due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, the person’s ability to operate the vehicle is visibly impaired.” MCL 257.625(3).
- OPEN INTOXICANTS IN VEHICLE: “[A] person who is an operator or occupant shall not transport or possess alcoholic liquor in a container that is open or uncapped or upon which the seal is broken within the passenger area of a vehicle upon a highway, or within the passenger area of a moving vehicle in any place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, in this state.” MCL 257.624a(1).
- RECKLESS DRIVING: “[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.” MCL 257.626(2).
- DRAG RACING: “A person shall not… [o]perate a vehicle upon a highway, or any other place open to the general public, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, in a speed or acceleration contest or drag race or to make a speed record.” MCL 257.626a(1)(a).
- CARELESS DRIVING: “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 an area designated for the parking of vehicles in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness, is responsible for a civil infraction.” MCL 257.626b.
- SPEEDING IN MOBILE HOME PARK: “[I]t is lawful for the operator of a vehicle to operate that vehicle on a highway at a speed not exceeding… 15 miles per hour on a highway segment within the boundaries of a mobile home park…”. MCL 257.627(2)(a).
- SPEEDING IN RESIDENTIAL SUBDIVISION: “[I]t is lawful for the operator of a vehicle to operate that vehicle on a highway at a speed not exceeding… 25 miles per hour on a highway segment within the boundaries of a residential subdivision, including a condominium subdivision, consisting of a system of interconnected highways with no through highways and a limited number of dedicated highways that serve as entrances to and exits from the subdivision.” MCL 257.627(2)(d).
- STOPPING BEFORE ENTERING OR CROSSING HIGHWAY FROM ALLEY, PRIVATE ROAD OR DRIVEWAY: “The driver of a vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from an alley, private road, or driveway shall come to a full stop before entering the highway and shall yield right of way to vehicles approaching on the highway.” MCL 257.652(1).
- FAILURE TO AVOID TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICES BY DRIVING THROUGH PRIVATE PROPERTY: “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).
- REPORTS TO ACCIDENTS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY: “The driver of a vehicle who knows or who has reason to believe that he or she has been involved in an accident upon public or private property that is open to travel by the public shall immediately stop his or her vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall remain there until the requirements of [MCL 257.619] are fulfilled or immediately report the accident to the nearest or most convenient police agency or officer… if there is a reasonable and honest belief that remaining at the scene will result in further harm.” MCL 257.617(1).
- OPERATING WHILE LICENSE SUSPENDED OR REVOKED: “A person whose operator’s or chauffeur’s license or registration certificate has been suspended or revoked, whose application for license has been denied, or who has never applied for a license, shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, within this state.” MCL 257.904(1).
Although private property like shopping mall parking lots and mobile home communities are generally not subject to traffic enforcement, those entities in charge of that private property can contract with local police to enforce traffic laws on said private property like a public roadway. “A city, township, or village, with the consent of, or at the request of, a person who is in charge of a private road or parking lot, whether or not that road or parking lot is open to the general public, may contract with that person for the city, township, or village to enforce provisions of the uniform traffic code or ordinance adopted under this section on that private road or parking lot.” MCL 257.951(2). This means that a driver who is speeding in the parking lot will have no idea whether the private property is subject to full traffic enforcement or not based on these private agreements. It is better to err on the side of caution that full enforcement is in effect.
A person accused of a traffic citation on public or private property is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. Likewise, a person accused of a traffic misdemeanor can plead not guilty in district court and has the right to a trial by judge or jury. In all instances, a person can get a skilled criminal defense lawyer in their corner to help him or her fight the charges. Even if the evidence against you is strong, you may be able to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that involves a plea to a reduced offense with minimal consequences. Avoiding points on your license or a moving violation altogether can save you hundreds of dollars in future insurance premiums in the long run. A good 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.