From the inbox: “I would be interested in reading how county and state traffic laws apply to privately-owned free access property such as mall parking lots.”

The emailer is correct that mall parking lots, like the malls themselves, are private property. Property owners have leeway in how they use their lots, as unhappy Eldersburg residents learned when Carrolltown Mall sponsored a carnival on the mall parking lot in 2011. The event generated complaints from nearby residents, who were angry about the potential noise, traffic and crowds.

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Reserved parking spaces for disabled individuals are a common feature of privately owned parking lots, in compliance with state law. A law adopted in 1996 required all parking lots constructed, repaved or restriped after that date to conform to the Maryland Accessibility Code by providing spaces accessible to disabled persons. The law prohibited drivers who do not have disabled license plates or hang tags from parking in spaces reserved for the disabled.

But what about mall parking lots whose owners post “reserved” signs on some parking spots for people picking up carryout orders?

The transportation article of the Maryland Code does not devote much attention to private parking lots, other than to prohibit parking in areas marked for use by people with disabilities. The article also prohibits “parking a vehicle at any other place where parking is prohibited by an official sign.”

The language of the article appears to give private parking lot owners the legal right to reserve specific parking spaces for anyone from pregnant women to employees of the month to customers picking up orders — if the spaces are marked by an official sign.

The statute does not generally distinguish between parkers who are ordinary shoppers and those who are parking trucks or other commercial vehicles for deliveries. One section establishes a schedule of fines for operators of commercial vehicles who violate the parking laws in Anne Arundel County, but is silent on penalties for violations in other counties.

One section of the transportation article bars people from placing, maintaining, or displaying in view of any highway, “any unauthorized sign, signal, marking or device that attempts to direct the movement of traffic.”

The section could possibly cover, for example, an unauthorized sign that would attempt to route drivers off a public street through a mall parking area.

What is an “official sign?” The Code of Maryland Regulations, in a section on parking on Maryland Transportation Authority property, defines an official sign as, “a sign that conforms to the system set forth in the most recent edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways as defined in the Transportation Article, Section 25-104, Annotated Code of Maryland.”

Section 25-104 directs the State Highway Administration (SHA) to establish a manual and specifications for a uniform traffic control system. The section provides backup legal authority for the rules SHA prescribes for signs.

You can look up sign specifications at www.roads.maryland.gov/index.aspx?PageId=835.

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