Upstate NY here. You see them everywhere: private property parking lots (mall parking lots, Lowes/Target/Walmart parking lots, etc.) that have stop signs, handicap parking spaces, double yellow lines...all the same signs/markers you see out on the open/public road.

So my question is: are these signs legally enforceable, seeing that they are on private property? For instance, if I fail to come to a stop at a stop sign located in a Walmart parking lot, can I get a ticket for that? If so, then how?? I couldn't put a stop sign in the middle of my back yard and then have police officers hand out tickets if someone drove across my lawn and didn't obey it.

And if they're not enforceable, then what's the point of them?!?

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    I suspect the police would in fact write a citation for someone who drives across your lawn. Probably for something higher than failure to obey a traffic control device.
    – user662852
    Feb 11, 2016 at 1:21
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    Thanks @user662852 but I'm confident you understand the point I am trying to make. Who makes me an authority to install a traffic control device on my lawn? Who makes Walmart/Target/the local mall an authority to install traffic devices in their private lots?
    – smeeb
    Feb 11, 2016 at 1:22
  • Not sure what the specific rules are here, but in many jurisdictions, there's a difference between a private property open to the public (such as a shop, restaurant, mall...) and a private property such as your home. Otherwise you couldn't have any rules such as smoking restrictions, minimum age, etc. I guess the same applies to "private" parking lots, which are open to the public. It would probably be different in the case of a strictly private parking only open to residents (though see answer below for exceptions).
    – jcaron
    Feb 11, 2016 at 14:23

4 Answers 4


This recently came up in a local PA homeowner association. Legally they own the roads in their development, but they have erected stop signs to make it clear who has the right of way and asked the township police to enforce them. A resident challenged the right of the police to enforce traffic laws on private property, but lost his appeal (albeit at the municipal level). The judge explained that the residents and any visitors had a reasonable expectation that the traffic signs would be obeyed, and that therefore violating them was just as dangerous as violating them on public roads, and that the same law and penalties would therefore be applied.

  • Dang...I guess it really always just boils down to whatever the judge thinks, boooo loose construction! Our laws are like JSON/YAML and what we really need is XML.
    – smeeb
    Feb 11, 2016 at 11:06
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    Nah, laws are more like CSV with no header row. And spaces as the delimiter. And yes, the values are strings with spaces in them.
    – Patrick87
    Feb 11, 2016 at 13:17
  • Just FYI local municipal judges will usually side with the town, as they are little independence.
    – Viktor
    Feb 11, 2016 at 14:39

They serve as directions from the property owner to the visitor. Inherent in the permission given to you to enter their property is an undertaking by you to obey their lawful and reasonable directions.

They cannot fine you if you don't (only governments have that power) but they can ask you to leave.

Further, they are discharging their duty of care to their visitors to provide a safe environment.


What is the point of them??? At the risk of stating the obvious...

The purpose is Traffic Control

The signs are designed to warn drivers about pedestrian activity and cross traffic, and cue them as to who should be stopping for whom.

How does that work without the government jackboot on the driver's throat? This may be hard to understand for fans of Mad Max, but...

Some people view the system of personal vehicles and roads as a wonderful gift. They want the system to work, and they think cooperatively. So they want traffic controls to help them drive more safely and to resolve operation sequence at crossings. They understand the value to helping everyone drive more safely without unfortunate incidents. They obey the traffic controls voluntarily.

...and..... if you choose to not cooperate, you'll be hitting them a lot, and it will be your fault.


Now, how does this work in the law?

First, hitting another car with your car may be illegal on private property depending on jurisdiction. But it's definitely a civil tort on private property. That means they get to sue you for their damage, even though you never see the legal process because it is done behind the curtains by the insurance companies.

In that legal action, they will look at the "facts on the ground", including any traffic controls regardless of whether a cop had jurisdiction to write a ticket. They only care about who is careless, and the existence of that sign is a very strong factor.

In most states, property owners (think: large retail properties, like malls) are allowed to invite the police to come on their property and enforce traffic law. Most malls do. In which case a traffic stop in that "agreement" mall is the same as a traffic stop on the highway. You don't get a say, the property owner does.

And, with handicap spots in particular, the legislation in your state certainly provides for enforceability of handicap spots on or off private property. Otherwise, the law wouldn't be much good, would it?

  • At the risk of stating the obvious... a stop sign requires a vehicle to stop even if the is no other vehicle or pedestrian in the vicinity. Therefore, they are a burdensome and inefficient method of cooperation. Other countries use rules of who has the right-of-way, and don't use so many stop signs. The question is not what happens if you hit a car. The question is what happens if you don't stop at a stop sign and nobody is around (except a cop or property owner). Jun 10, 2019 at 4:37
  • Nobody around, eh? Jun 10, 2019 at 13:58

Nope, they can't with only 2 exceptions Exception 1, handicap parking as long as it is clearly marked and posted. Exception 2, Fire Zones, again as long as it is clearly marked and posted.

Be aware that if you are in a parking lot accident, the police will note and traffic control signs and devices... in which you're insurance company may care that you're ignoring the posted devices caused an accident.

This is direct from Colonie, NY Police Lt. Ken Pero in 2010, answering the public questions regarding this exact question

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