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2009 MUTCD Regulations for Private Parking Lot Safety

The federal government has a compelling interest in keeping drivers safe.  These interests are outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  The 2009 MUTCD outlines standards for devices like signs, flexible delineators, markings and other traffic elements.  These standards apply to many areas of both public and private roadways; however, there are some gray areas where language in the manual is not so clear. 

Does the 2009 MUTCD Apply to Private Parking Lots?
Private lots are often used for public purposes.  A business may be privately owned and be erected on private property, making parking amenities also privately owned.  Places such as malls, shopping centers, movie theatres, and similar establishments all have private parking lots.  These entities have the right to determine who can be in their lot and who cannot.  Some of these lots are vast and even connect public roadways.  Drivers may even feel that they are still on a publicly-maintained roadway because of the uniform application of signage and street markings. 

While all of this might lead you to believe the MUTCD should govern these areas, in order to enhance parking lot safety, the language is not so clear.  The 2009 MUTCD as interpreted by the Federal Highway Administration states that private lots are not subject to standards outlined in the manual.  This means that signage, markings, delineators, and other traffic control devices do not have to legally conform to 2009 MUTCD standards.  These changes were adopted in December of 2009 and they also apply to public parking lots and structures. However, Intro P3 C of the MUTCD states, “Parking areas, including the driving aisles within those parking areas, that are either publicly or privately owned shall not be considered to be ‘open to public travel’ for purposes of MUTCD applicability.”

If the 2009 MUTCD requirements did apply to private parking lots and structures, certain regulations would have to be followed.  For example, delineators are commonly used as guidance devices more than as warning devices.  Any time there is a change in horizontal alignment on a roadway, a delineator must be used.  This would apply to private parking lots and garages as well if the 2009 manual so warranted.  Dimensions and application of retroreflective elements on delineators would also apply.   

The extensive standards for traffic control devices in regards to parking lot safety do not currently apply to privately owned and operated parking areas according to the 2009 MUTCD.  However, in the future, feasible standards may be developed that allow for consistent regulation of private parking lots.