Where do traffic laws apply?

[ For where and how traffic laws in Arizona apply to bicyclists, see this article ]

The rules of the road (ROR) apply to motorists when an a road; but what about when driving in a parking lot? A private street? etc?

What are usually referred to as the ROR, like stopping, right-of-way, signals, etc, are contained in Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 28, Chapters 3. (Chapter 4 is impaired driving and is treated specifically below). Here is the key statute, along with the key definition,  emphasis added in italics:


§28-621. Applicability to vehicles on highways; exceptions

The provisions of this chapter [chapter 3, the ROR] and chapter 5 [penalties] of this title [title 28, Transportation] relating to the operation of vehicles refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles on highways except:
1. If a different place is specifically provided by statute.
2. Article 4 [hit-and-run] of this chapter and section 28-693 [reckless driving] apply on highways and elsewhere throughout this state.

§28-101, 57. “Street” or “highway” means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way if a part of the way is open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.


So the key definition being highway (synonymous with street), and encompasses the entire width; including the roadway where vehicles normally driven, any shoulders, any parking, and even any sidewalks. It also would appear from the definition of highway that it’s immaterial whether or not the land is “private property”.

The exceptions are pretty obvious: hit-and-run, as well as reckless driving apply not just when driving on roads, but  “…and elsewhere”; which means everywhere and anywhere.

I don’t know of any laws that fall into the #1 exception, where the statute explicitly states where a law might apply elsewhere. ?

So a few potential non-public categories arise

  • Gated communities (private streets): The ROR don’t apply
  • Ungated but private streets: ??
  • Private campus (e.g. campus of a private university): ??
  • Public campus (e.g. ASU, NAU, etc): I seem to remember that they are their own public agency, analogous to a city, e.g. ASU police are NCIC 797… so yes ROR would apply.
  • Commercial or private Parking lots: ? parking lots in general all seem to encompass both some areas of travel, “roads” if you will, and vehicular storage. ??

Where the ROR don’t apply, run-of-the-mill traffic violations can’t be imposed: so disregarding signs, signals, speed limits, etc can be cited. The behavior would have to rise to the level of reckless driving in order to be charged.

None of that has anything to do with civil liability in the event of a collision; just that those laws can’t be cited against a driver.

When a crash occurs involving a motor vehicle, this all ties in to whether or not crashes (and therefore injuries and fatalities) get reported via trackable means, an Arizona Crash Report; or become non-traffic incidents and not counted towards officially reported traffic statistics (i.e. in Arizona by ADOT, or federally by NHTSA)

11 thoughts on “Where do traffic laws apply?”

  1. Thanks for addressing this issue. One question I am left with is whether the ROR apply on public bike paths (mixed use paths, really). Over the years, I have seen some pretty bad crashes between cyclists and pedestrians (and other cyclists), and often witness a disregard on public paths for the ROR. Example, the “safe” passing distance. Cyclists often pass one another, or pedestrians, within inches of one another. Another example, overtaking at an intersection (where the path intersects another path or an access point). Can we assume the ROR on a public bike path do not apply, or do they?

  2. The Scottsdale example is interesting. Wonder how wide spread these kinds of ad hoc ordinances really are – and to what extent they have been tested. Having been in front of a 3rd party on roadway tort litigation more than once in my past life, I’d think the Scottsdale ordinance is for feeling good – but a good plaintiff’s attorney would rip them to shreds when it came to enforcement.

    Roads have long established national and state-adopted standards, and laws backing up the ROR. For example, black on white signs are “regulatory” and enforceable. Black on yellow are advisory and not enforceable. Usually spelled out in the administrative codes – where the State DOT or another authority adopts the MUTCD or similar.

    None of that appears to be spelled out in the Scottsdale ordinance. I’ve never seen a bike path with clear signing and pavement markings that could be construed to establish the rules relative to the ROR.

    I have to think to get anywhere when establishing a “violation” (or “fault”), you would need to fall back to the State’s statutory ROR.

  3. Augsburg,
    The state of Arizona gives cities the authority to do a lot of things including creating and enforcing laws. The link I provided was to the specific laws for off-street paths. It is one article in Chapter 17 of the Scottsdale Revised Code. If a police officer were to actually cite someone for any of these violations, I guess their attorney would get the opportunity to “rip them to shreds” in court. My guess is the attorney fees would be higher than the fine. Here is another link to all of Scottsdale’s codes and ordinances. http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/codes
    Full disclosure: I worked in Scottsdale’s transportation department from 2004 – 2013.

  4. Could you tell us about the laws for mixed use paths such as Tucson’s “The Loop”? We have to deal with everything from electric bikes and mopeds sgoing at 25-30 mph, to pedestrians yelling at any cyclist riding faster than they feel safe. Plus dogs on and off leash.

    What is the law? May people do whatever they choose or do traffic laws apply? And if so, which ones?

  5. => 28-811(B) applies “chapter 3” to bicycle operation on highways(streets) or dedicated paths:
    B. Except as otherwise provided in this article, this chapter applies to a bicycle when it is operated on a highway or on a path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

    We noted in the past that 28-811 is called: “Parent and guardian responsibility; applicability of article”, which seems inconsistent and made me wonder whether “chapter 3” or “article 11” is what’s applied on highways and paths.
    http://azbikelaw.org/applicability-statutes-why-are-there-two/#comment-20199

  6. Hi ReedK, I apologize if I am a bit jaded about the ordinance holding up. You and I may have some similarities in our backgrounds, and mine left me seeing attorneys poking a lot of holes in enforcement of laws such as the Scottsdale ordinance. I spent a number of years working in transportation design and traffic operations for a state DOT and in later years worked for jurisdictions all over the country. Early on, I spent a lot of time defending the state as their expert witness in “traffic safety” and “traffic design”. Later, in the private sector performing transportation planning, design and construction oversight services, I spent a lot of time boning up on local laws – where I found that most are pretty similar but some have minor differences.

    In any event, I tend to feel any citations by an officer would require that a law is broken and if the local ordinance on the path’s right of way is incomplete (e.g., not addressing the normal rules for ROW at intersections in the Scottsdale ordinance, or the typical exceptions found in state statutes for vehicle vs pedestrian ROW) leaves gaps that a good attorney could drive a truck through. The worst crash I ever saw was a pedestrian crossing a bike path at an intersection with another path.

    I feel the state statues are more complete and tested – although they are almost universally out of date when it comes to non-motorized transportation. I like the reference above by Justin that appears to apply the AZ state statute to paths.

  7. From ARS 28-811B “a path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”
    The key word in this is “exclusive”. Our paths are for shared use by pedestrians, bicycles, skaters, etc. They are not set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles and 28-811B does not apply to them.

  8. yes, there is some confusion about the wording of 28-811B but, yes as Reed points out, that could possibly only apply were they exclusive bike paths.
    Can anyone point out an exclusive bike path anywhere in AZ?
    How about this weird project on Hardy in Tempe? The section where a second sidewalk was constructed, so one sidewalk is “exclusively” for bicyclists, and the other parallel sidewalk is just a plain sidewalk:
    https://azbikelaw.org/hardy-drive-streetscape-project/

    Anyway, here’s more about that 28-811B wording: it was implied in the Baggett court of appeals case (headlight required at night on sidewalk). http://azbikelaw.org/ruling-cyclists-are-required-to-satisfy-nighttime-lighting-requirements/#comment-24314

  9. ABL and ReedK, I saw the use of the word “exclusive” in the statute, but figured that law is probably from the early days of bike facility design in the U.S. (1980’s and 1990’s), when the use of the word “exclusive” was really meant as “no automobiles”. In those days, there was pressure from bike groups to include bikes in transportation planning and construction of highway improvements. A foreign concept at the time. Funding was often tied to how the transportation facility was used and there were some set asides agreed to with bike groups. That is, money was set side for tacking on “exclusive use” bike facilities to major transportation projects. At that time, most did not think much about pedestrians – although, we knew they would use the paths.

    Of course today, we know that virtually all bike paths are “multi-use”. I don’t know if an exclusive path for only bikes exists in nature (irregardless of the official designation). In today’s vernacular, we still exclude motor vehicles (with e-bikes an exception), but typically allow pedestrians, in-line skates, skate boards, and a myriad of all the new electric-powered mobility devices.

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