Parking lot shortcuts: The quick way to an accident

December 9, 2013

A retail parking lot in December may look like a vast lake of holiday shoppers and cars, but to some, the lot may look like as it always does: like a shortcut. That’s because motorists, frustrated by standstill traffic on public roads, regularly use the expansive parking lots of malls, shopping centers, and grocery stores to circumvent clogged intersections and the red-light cameras of automated enforcement systems.

Ohioan Matt Pfeffer says he uses such lots to save “15 to 20 minutes of hassle during rush hour. I see a lot of people doing it. I’m not the only one.”

There’s no law against Pfeffer’s actions—at least not in Canal Winchester, OH. Some localities, such as Cleveland and Akron, do outlaw shortcuts through private property for avoiding traffic logjams, and some places—Arizona, for example—ban them statewide.

corner gas station

Gas stations and parking lots on corners like this one can tempt motorists into cutting through. From ford8n.

The law is inconsistent, but the danger posed to drivers and pedestrians in parking lots isn’t: 20 percent of all vehicle accidents happen in them nationwide, says AAA MidAtlantic. Indeed, according to the same organization, 30 percent of pedestrian accidents in Montgomery County, MD, between January and August 2013 occurred in parking lots.

That figure may be on track with the prior year, when the county noted a 34 percent rise in vehicle-pedestrian collisions in parking lots and garages. (Montgomery County is one of few areas in the United States to track such trends.)

Private lots, garages, and drives aren’t engineered to accommodate high-volume through traffic, so they lack certain safety features, such as good lighting, and often feature blind spots. Pedestrians who may be walking and texting on their mobile phones alongside moving cars pose an additional hazard to drivers who view such areas not as a parking lot, but as a cut-through pathway.

“You can be killed here in the morning,” said Elaine Vaughan, who works at Half Price Books in Brice Park Shopping Center in Maryland. “They fly through this parking lot.”

“If your car is the only one here in the morning, you have to worry about it being hit,” added Danielle Boster, an employee at a tanning salon in the Gender Road Town Centre of Canal Winchester, OH. “We see them all day. It’s a consistent problem.”

Law enforcement officials don’t patrol privately owned lots when no ordinance prohibits using them as shortcuts, and some officials, such as police commander Greg Annis of Pickerington, OH, said his department doesn’t especially care whether motorists cut through the lots. Of greater concern are drivers who trespass regulations that are on the books, like illegal left turns, he said.

But in neighboring Westerville, where cut-through driving across lots is outlawed and violators are fined $150, police chief Joe Morbitzer describes the practice as a “very tragic accident waiting to happen.”

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Category: Regulations

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