Courts & Crime

Can you get a traffic ticket in a supermarket parking lot?

The question occurred to Alan L. Tharp of Raleigh, N.C., as he walked out of his neighborhood Kroger, pushing a cartload of groceries:

"Are stop signs in shopping centers legal, or are they merely suggestions?"

Let's call them sensible suggestions. Ignore them at your peril.

Just the other day, Tharp was crossing the parking-lot lane in front of the supermarket, on the way to his car.

The lane was posted with stop signs on both sides of the store entrance. It was a clear command, he figured, that an approaching driver must stop for shoppers walking in and out of the store.

"I assumed the car was going to stop, and it didn't," Tharp said. "It didn't hit me, but it scared me a little bit."

Later he counted 10 cars driving past the Kroger door; only one bothered to stop. Were nine out of 10 drivers breaking the law?

Before I consulted Kevin Lacy, chief traffic engineer at the state Department of Transportation, I thought the answer was clearly "No."

But Lacy clicked through one statute after another and declared the issue "clear as mud" — or clear as something traffic engineers call MUTCD.

You won't get a traffic ticket if you run a shopping-center stop sign, but you might get into an accident. And that will get you into trouble.

"I would encourage folks to stop for that sign," Lacy said. "If you happen to hit one of those people in the parking lot and you didn't stop, there is little doubt that you'd be held liable and responsible.

"Whether you get a ticket or not will be the least of your worries."

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