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Is a police car parked perpendicular to the road (with flashing lights) sufficient by itself to legally establish road closure to all traffic -- including non-thru (i.e. local) traffic to a residence which can only be accessed via the "closed" road? There is no additional signage, traffic control devices, or police officers out of the car directing traffic.


Research:

Note: Take my research with a grain of salt. I am a legal "enthusiast" and certainly not an expert. I also have a vested interest in proving that such a road is not legally marked as closed since I was ticketed for driving on a closed road in exactly this scenario. Therefore, I worry that my research is biased in that I may have stopped too soon when I found clauses which seem to support what I was thinking when I drove past the police officer's car to my house. Please keep this in mind as you read further as I am interested in the correct legal interpretation of all governing laws rather than what I would like to be true from my relatively limited research into what I think might be the applicable laws.

Police have the authority to regulate traffic via police officers or traffic control devices per 4511.07 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).

Quoted text from the Ohio Revised Code

4511.07 Local traffic regulations.

(A) Sections 4511.01 to 4511.78, 4511.99, and 4513.01 to 4513.37 of the Revised Code do not prevent local authorities from carrying out the following activities with respect to streets and highways under their jurisdiction and within the reasonable exercise of the police power:

...

(2) Regulating traffic by means of police officers or traffic control devices;

...

A road may be closed by the authority having jurisdiction with posted appropriate signs per ORC 4511.71 at which point it is illegal to drive upon the road. Signs are a requirement listed in 4511.71, therefore it appears it would be inappropriate for a police officer to issue a citation for driving on a closed road due to inappropriate signage unless:

  1. A case can be made for the police car with flashing lights parked perpendicular to the road as a "traffic control device" in and of itself since there was not a police officer actively directly traffic.
  2. There is some other section of the code that applies to emergencies or unexpected events that I am overlooking which gives broader authority to police discretion on how to indicate a road is closed.

Quoted text from the Ohio Revised Code

4511.71 Prohibition against driving upon closed highway.

(A) No person shall drive upon, along, or across a street or highway, or any part of a street or highway that has been closed in the process of its construction, reconstruction, or repair, and posted with appropriate signs by the authority having jurisdiction to close such highway.

...

4511.12 Obedience to traffic control devices.

(A) No pedestrian, driver of a vehicle, or operator of a streetcar or trackless trolley shall disobey the instructions of any traffic control device placed in accordance with this chapter, unless at the time otherwise directed by a police officer.

No provision of this chapter for which signs are required shall be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation an official sign is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an ordinarily observant person. Whenever a particular section of this chapter does not state that signs are required, that section shall be effective even though no signs are erected or in place.

...

Now, if the police car parked perpendicular to the road with flashing lights is to be argued as a "traffic control device", it must conform to the state manual (Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices [OMUTCD] 2012 Edition) per ORC 4511.11:

Quoted text from the Ohio Revised Code

4511.01 Traffic laws - operation of motor vehicles definitions.

...

(QQ) "Traffic control device" means a flagger, sign, signal, marking, or other device used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, private road open to public travel, pedestrian facility, or shared-use path by authority of a public agency or official having jurisdiction, or, in the case of a private road open to public travel, by authority of the private owner or private official having jurisdiction.

...

4511.11 Local conformity to manual for uniform system of traffic control devices.

...

(D) All traffic control devices erected on any street, highway, alley, bikeway, or private road open to public travel shall conform to the state manual

...

Per 6I.05 01 of OMUTCD:2012: "Emergency-vehicle lighting, however, provides warning only and provides no effective traffic control".

Quoted text from Ohio Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices 2012 Edition

CHAPTER 6I. CONTROL OF TRAFFIC THROUGH TRAFFIC INCIDENT MANAGEMENT AREAS

...

Section 6I.05 Use of Emergency-Vehicle Lighting

Support:

01 The use of emergency-vehicle lighting (such as high-intensity rotating, flashing, oscillating, or strobe lights) is essential, especially in the initial stages of a traffic incident, for the safety of emergency responders and persons involved in the traffic incident, as well as road users approaching the traffic incident. Emergency-vehicle lighting, however, provides warning only and provides no effective traffic control. The use of too many lights at an incident scene can be distracting and can create confusion for approaching road users, especially at night. Road users approaching the traffic incident from the opposite direction on a divided facility are often distracted by emergency-vehicle lighting and slow their vehicles to look at the traffic incident posing a hazard to themselves and others traveling in their direction.

...

Therefore, I am left with the conclusion that as long as an individual slows down to pass the perpendicularly parked police car (in accordance with ORC 4511.213) in this scenario to reach his or her residence which is not blocked by the road obstruction, then the individual should not be ticketed for driving on a closed road (ORC 4511.71 quoted above) or failure to comply with police or traffic control instruction (ORC 4511.12 quoted above).

Quoted text from the Ohio Revised Code

4511.213 Approaching stationary public safety vehicle displaying emergency light. (A) The driver of a motor vehicle, upon approaching a stationary public safety vehicle, emergency vehicle, road service vehicle, waste collection vehicle, vehicle used by the public utilities commission to conduct motor vehicle inspections in accordance with sections 4923.04 and 4923.06 of the Revised Code, or a highway maintenance vehicle that is displaying the appropriate visual signals by means of flashing, oscillating, or rotating lights, as prescribed in section 4513.17 of the Revised Code, shall do either of the following:

(1) If the driver of the motor vehicle is traveling on a highway that consists of at least two lanes that carry traffic in the same direction of travel as that of the driver's motor vehicle, the driver shall proceed with due caution and, if possible and with due regard to the road, weather, and traffic conditions, shall change lanes into a lane that is not adjacent to that of the stationary public safety vehicle, emergency vehicle, road service vehicle, waste collection vehicle, vehicle used by the public utilities commission to conduct motor vehicle inspections in accordance with sections 4923.04 and 4923.06 of the Revised Code, or a highway maintenance vehicle.

(2) If the driver is not traveling on a highway of a type described in division (A)(1) of this section, or if the driver is traveling on a highway of that type but it is not possible to change lanes or if to do so would be unsafe, the driver shall proceed with due caution, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle, and maintain a safe speed for the road, weather, and traffic conditions.

Is there another law I am missing which contradicts my conclusion that a road in this scenario is not legally marked as closed?


Just in Case Additional Detail Needed:

Scenario:

  • An unexpected obstruction occurs on 2-lane road that prevents through-traffic (e.g. car accident, downed telephone pole/power line).
  • A police car is parked perpendicular to the road with flashing lights to allow other workers to clear the obstruction. The police car partially obstructs both main lanes of car travel, but there is enough room for a car to safely pass on the right-hand side of the road if utilizing the road's shoulder.
  • There is no police officer outside of the car directing traffic, nor is it obvious that there is a police officer inside of the vehicle because the driver-side door is facing the obstruction rather than on-coming traffic.
  • There are no signs of any kind in addition to the perpendicularly-parked police car.

Road detail: Image depicting scenario with road detail

  • 2 motorist lanes with 2 bicycle lanes (one on each outer edge of the road)
  • There are driveways to residences directly off of this road. Several houses are completely obstructed on both sides.
  • 35 mph speed limit
  • Typical traffic is approximately 30 cars/minute during the busiest hours of the road's "closure".

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  • Police cars in Australia have LED displays so they say "ROAD CLOSED" if the road is closed. – Dale M Jun 17 at 2:10
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    @Dale M Thank you for your input and I certainly wish that cars in my area had such LED displays to help disambiguate this scenario. This question is specific to law in the United States of America state of Ohio as indicated in the tag of the question. The cars involved in this scenario simply have flashing lights without any dynamic textual displays. – statueuphemism Jun 17 at 2:13
  • @statueuphemism Just out of curiosity, how much was the ticket for? How serious is this situation? When there's ambiguity, the "reasonable man" standard is typically a good rule of thumb. I, personally, agree that it would be reasonable to proceed as you did if (1) there were no officers directing traffic (2) it was possible to safely pass (3) you were local, not through, traffic (4) there was not any evident reason for the closure. I'm honestly surprised the police would even ticket you in this situation. Bad judgment on the cops' part. – Patrick87 2 days ago
  • @Patrick87 Nothing too serious, but certainly annoying: $130 fine and 2 points on my license are what I would have gotten had I plead guilty to driving on a closed road. Instead, I went to the arraignment, plead not guilty and would have gone to trial if not for the fact that the prosecutor for my city happened to be present. Because of that, I talked to the prosecutor it wuickly became clear he just wanted to get a conviction and some money for the city so he offered to drop the charges down to a “noisy muffler” ... – statueuphemism 2 days ago
  • ... non-moving violation (no points on license) and a reduced fine of $50 and court costs (net cost of 180 after 130 court costs). Since the main thing I cared about was the moving violation given my otherwise clean driving record, I went for it and plead no contest to the noisy muffler charge to save: ... – statueuphemism 2 days ago
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As a general rule in the United States, you should obey Police Commands before regular rules of the Road. The presence of a police vehicle with lights on obstructing the flow of traffic is enough of a sign that the officer does not wish you to proceed past the point of the obstruction as there is some sort of situation they are managing... be it a road obstruction, a pursuit of a suspect (especially if the suspect is armed or disregarding traffic safety), or other reason to block the road due to higher than normal pedestrian traffic or high risk target being moved through the area (As someone in the D.C. area, any time the President or the Vice President needs to go some where locally, the roads for several different planned routes are shut down and all traffic is stopped until the route is clear. Local police, not the secrete service have this authority.) or a crime scene or accident investigation. It could even be the officer is in the process of erecting the signage for instructions.

At any rate, it is probably best to wait for the officer to further instruct you as to how to proceed as you could endanger the officer's life (All First responders are trained to make sure they are safe prior to rendering aide to a victim), be arrested or detained for interfering with law enforcement activity, or worse, killed by the hazards beyond the car. It is best to wait for the officer to instruct you as to how to proceed and most officers will let residents through and when not, will have a location for you to go until the area is opened up.

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    This is good general advice, but it doesn't answer OP's specific question about whether Ohio law actually prohibits driving past a police car in the situation described. – Nate Eldredge Jun 17 at 14:58

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