New traffic law will penalize drivers who cause injury, death on private property

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By Ally Hamzey
The Meridian Times Reporter

A Haslett resident furrows her eyebrows as the topic of the House Bill 4314, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder a few weeks prior, is brought into the conversation.

The bill states that law enforcement has the authority to enforce traffic laws on private property that is open to the general public when moving violations result in death or serious injuries.

A stop sign stands in the Meridian Township Meijer parking lot. Photo by Ally hamzey

A stop sign stands in the Meridian Township Meijer parking lot. Photo by Ally Hamzey

The resident, who wished to remain anonymous, explains that she is a nurse who interacts with people with such serious injuries very often.

“I’m a nurse, and I see people who were injured very badly on private property, and they get nothing,” she said. “They get no compensation at all. I think this will bring justice and help to those injured on private properties.”

The nurse sits quietly for a moment, and looks pensive.

“I think they should be held accountable on private property,” she said. “If you kill people, it doesn’t matter where you are.”

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing. A collision at a Lansing-area Meijer parking lot in which a driver struck three people and severely injuring one motivated Singh to propose the measure.

According to Singh, Meridian Township could not impose criminal charges to the driver for the moving violation due to the fact that the incident occurred on private property.

Under this bill, a person who commits a moving violation resulting in the death of another person while operating a vehicle upon a highway or parking lot for motor vehicles could face a “misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both,” according to the House Bill 4314.

Greg Frenger, captain of the Services Division of the Meridian Township Police Department, said there were minimal circumstances where officers could enact law enforcement on private property collisions before the bill.

“Typically, before this law, if you were a pedestrian at a Meijer and something happened where you were hit by a car, we could not do enforcement —- unless if the behavior on the drivers part rose to a certain level such as reckless driving or driving under the influence,” Frenger said. “Prior to this, there wasn’t any legal consequence that a driver would face. They may have only faced an issue with insurance company, or the party injured suing them.”

Frenger believes residents of Meridian Township will see benefits to the passed bill.

“This will allow us to do something about those situations,” Frenger said. “I think of this law as one that fills a void for an area we were previously not able to do much about. It fills a gap in the laws.”

George Sinas, an adjunct professor at the Michigan State University College of Law, where he teaches a course on Michigan Auto No-Fault law, sees the question of how this law will be enforced “as something that requires attention.”

“I don’t know exactly what law is going to be enforced. There are a lot of locations in a parking lot that are clearly dangerous, and clearly require a great caution by motorists,” Sinas said. “As a matter of fact, in certain circumstances, parking lots are more dangerous than streets. So, there is a great need to make sure that vehicles that are moving in and around parking lots, are being operated safely. There is a need to make sure that if they’re not being operated safely, that there is some type of enforcement action that can be taken.”

Sinas said he believes that most residents aren’t aware of bills when they are passed. However, he has a suggestion for residents looking to become more informed of their state’s legislature.

“The State of Michigan’s governmental website lists every pending bill,” Sinas said. “So, if citizens are interested to see whats pending in the legislature, they can go to the website, and be confronted with hundreds of bills.”

Once residents become more informed of the bill passed some weeks ago, Sinas has a feeling that residents are “generally going to support the idea that we should do traffic enforcement of traffic rules in large parking lots.”

The Meridian Township Meijer parking lot is large in size and has many potential dangers for pedestrians and drivers. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

The Meridian Township Meijer parking lot is large in size and has many potential dangers for pedestrians and drivers. Photo by Ally Hamzey.

“I would be surprised if you saw a lot of people objecting it. We all go to malls, we all go to big, athletic events and concerts where cars are moving through the parking areas,” Sinas said. “I think people are going to like the idea that— ‘Hey, there are rules out here. This isn’t just an open space; free for all.’”

Despite his few concerns about the execution of the bill, Sinas is a supporter of the notion of the bill.

“Generally, I think the idea is a good one — to make sure we are enforcing public safety in public parking lots and other large spaces where vehicular public transportation is permitted,” Sinas said.

Sinas said it is crucial to be “clear with what they are enforcing” when passing a law.

“Whenever we pass laws, they have to be specific enough so people know what is legal and what is illegal,” Sinas said.

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