By: Paul Reynolds and Kathy K. Dorough
We are often asked whether Georgia traffic laws apply to private streets maintained by a homeowners or condominium association. The answer depends on a number of factors ranging from the offense charged to the method in which the roads are used in the community.
The Georgia Code is, as you might expect, somewhat complicated with respect to where traffic laws apply, and it is a matter that is consistently litigated in criminal cases, particularly those involving Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions. There are cases which explore the applicability of traffic laws to areas ranging from shopping center parking lots to personal driveways. To provide a bit of background: Title 40 of the Georgia Code addresses traffic violations, the operation of motor vehicles on the highways of Georgia, licensing of drivers and vehicles and other administrative areas related to motor vehicles. Title 40, Chapter 6, entitled “Uniform Rules of the Road”, addresses the majority of moving violations and other issues which are generally referred to as the traffic laws. While Title 40 generally applies to vehicles on public and private streets, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-3 states that Chapter 6 only applies to the operation of moving vehicles upon “highways.” While the reference to highways would appear to resolve the issue, as is often the case with state statutes, there are a variety of exceptions and the meaning of highway is not as obvious as it would at first appear.
As a general rule, minor traffic laws do not apply to private streets and roads, so long as those roads are truly private. If it is a more serious traffic violation, like DUI or reckless driving, there is an exception and the traffic law will apply to private and public streets, parking lots and related areas. Additionally, there is an exception in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-3 which states that the provisions of Chapter 6 apply to “areas which although privately owned are customarily used by the public as through streets or connector streets;” . . . Finally, what constitutes a highway and a private street is more complicated than simply who is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the road. The case law indicates that if the road is used by the public, and common to the public, then it is a highway and thus the provisions of Title 40, Chapter 6 will apply.
With the above as a reference point, one of the major areas to consider when attempting to determine if state traffic laws apply to your community’s roads is to look at how private the roads really are and how they are utilized. Even if the Association is solely responsible for upkeep and maintenance, if the general public can or does access the roads, it is likely that the state traffic laws apply.
Whether you believe that the state traffic laws apply to your community, it should not be viewed as an authorization for the association to try to enforce such laws. Associations will have limited to no authority to enforce traffic rules and regulations that are not expressly set out in their governing documents and will have difficulty enforcing those that are specifically set out. Even if the Declaration or Association’s Rules and Regulations govern traffic offenses, and the governing documents set out a procedure for fining, the association would still have to be able to prove that the violation occurred and be able to trace the violation to a member of the association. Not only must you see (or video tape) a car rolling through a stop sign, the driver of the vehicle must be identified as well. In practice, both of these can be daunting tasks. Prior to making any effort to privately enforce traffic laws, the association should address the issue and any potential pitfalls with counsel.
Even if your roads are private, if they are used by the public, your local traffic law enforcement agency might be willing to patrol and/or set up surveillance points for you. Be sure to take advantage of the services you are paying taxes for! The Board of Directors or the Association’s manager should be persistent in requesting this type of assistance from local law enforcement.