Traffic Signs Posted on Private Property

Today I will discuss traffic signs posted on private property.

Michael W. Flynn
4-minute read

First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.   

Before getting into today’s topic, I have a purely personal announcement: my sister Tory is getting married this weekend! I am so excited for her, and am happy to welcome her fiancé Ryan into the family. Congrats!

Today I will discuss traffic signs posted on private property. Amanda from Colorado wrote:

Recently, my apartment complex got a little overzealous about posting stop signs in our parking lot. … When there is clearly no one else around, I consider not stopping at these signs. This leads to my question: when stop signs are posted on private property, as with my apartment complex parking lot, am I legally required to stop? Do these stop signs carry the same weight as stop signs on public roads? Finally, if I had a long driveway, could I buy a stop sign and post it halfway down the drive? Would visitors to my house be obliged to follow its instruction?

The short and practical answer is that the police usually have the power to enforce traffic regulations on private property. With regard to private enforcement, it all depends on contracts that you sign. 

Generally, statutory traffic regulations or rules of the road have no application to traffic on private ways or premises. However, this principle has often been qualified to hold that such traffic regulations or rules are applicable to private ways or premises used generally by the public for travel. For example, a man in the District of Columbia was convicted of driving without a license, even though he started his car on private property, and was only seen driving on private property. The court reasoned that unless a motor vehicle law is limited to public property by its own terms, the law applies to all drivers on both public and private property. Several states have followed this general rule including New York, New Jersey, Texas, Iowa and others. Other states have followed this rationale only when examining laws that are more broadly intended to protect against dangerous driving. So, most states permit a police officer to enforce drunk driving laws on any property, public or private, because driving drunk is so inherently dangerous.