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Driving You Crazy: Do we have to stop at the stop signs in grocery store parking lots?

Half of the people stop, and half of the people don’t.
Safeway Stop Signs
Posted at 5:03 AM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-17 12:14:44-04

Jeananne from Broomfield writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Hello Jayson. At the former Safeway in Westminster, the stop signs are still there. My question is, if the Safeway is not in business, do people still have to stop at the stop signs? Half of the people stop, and half of the people don’t, so I’m curious.”

The answer might surprise you, Jeananne. Drivers don’t have to stop at that sign, and it’s not because the Safeway is closed.

That is a private parking lot, and the owner of the shopping center, Gart Properties, put up the signs as a request for drivers to stop. The signs are there to make a general warning to drivers in the shopping center that people will be walking in and out of the stores and to watch out for them. It doesn’t matter that the Safeway store is empty or not, the stop sign is a suggestion, not required by law.

When I went out to that former Westminster Safeway in the Willow Run Shopping Center to take a look for myself, I saw on average 9 out of every 10 drivers blowing past all of the stop signs. My guess is that the people who aren’t stopping either don’t know private parking lot rules and run the stop because the store is empty or they in general ignore these type of stop signs. It’s this private property situation that allows for funny speed limits with fractions in a couple Highlands Ranch shopping centers and odd numbered speed limits on roads in gated communities.

It is common to see stop signs in front of grocery stores in shopping centers. Every one of these stop signs, since they are on private property, are not enforceable by local police. Even if a police officer was stopped at the other sign across from a driver and they saw that driver run the stop sign, they won’t write a ticket. I reached out numerous times to Evan Gart with Gart Properties for comment about the specific stop signs at the Willow Run Shopping Center, but he never returned my calls.

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Before you start blowing through these stop signs with reckless abandon, you do need to watch for people because hitting someone is a crime. There are also some laws police can enforce on private property like reckless driving, parking in a fire lane, handicapped parking violations, and DUI. Also, if you committed a traffic or other illegal offense on a public street and you pull into a private parking lot, police can continue onto that property to contact you.

According to the Colorado Lawyer Team, Colorado law provides police with the authority to arrest a person for a DUI even while parked in a vehicle, even while sleeping, and even on private property.

“It is because of a legal concept known as ‘actual physical control’. It refers to having the ability to drive the vehicle, even if it is not being driven at that time. Basically, if you were sitting in the driver’s seat but had no intention of actually driving, you could still get a DUI while parked for having the capability of driving at that time. Whether you will be convicted is decided completely by the circumstances of your case, but officers will look for certain factors such as where the vehicle is found, where you are seated in the vehicle, where the keys are, and whether or not the vehicle was running. The rules apply in parking lots, roadways, and even on private land.”

An interesting story: I was doing a ride along with a police officer, and he liked to run license plates in the Target parking lot. He would find someone with a warrant, wait for them to come out of the store, get in the car, pull onto the public road and then the officer would pull that driver over. He said he couldn’t stop the offender in the lot, so he waited until the offender was on the public streets.

Please remember, though, even though an officer won’t give a ticket for not stopping at those parking lot stop signs, beware that people crossing the street expect drivers to stop at the sign, especially outside an active store. Hitting a person with a car, in a private parking lot or not, is extremely serious for the pedestrian and for the driver.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook,Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.