Written by attorney Douglas Brooks Rohan

The grocery store parking lot is no place to make up lost time...

With three kids under age seven, my wife and I have had to adjust to zone coverage. There are always two sets of eyes watching three kids. And despite what my oldest thinks, no my wife does not have another set of eyes in the back of her head. We have always placed a high priority on teaching our kids the dangers of traffic. The danger to pedestrians appears to be most acute in front of grocery stores at our local shopping centers.

Metro Atlanta consistently ranks in the Top 10 of the most dangerous cities in the country for pedestrians. I am keenly aware of this danger because a childhood friend of mine was killed crossing the road after school one day. I, myself, just celebrated my 25th anniversary of the time I tried to eat a Volvo while riding my bicycle. (We decided to call it a tie: it had a huge dent in the front quarter panel and I lost a few teeth).

Going to the store is literally a chore. More often than not you have a marginally responsible six year old trying to supervise a three year old while you are reaching into the back of the van to unbuckle your toddler from the car seat. Oh, and did I mention that the six year old and three year old are vibrating with the prospect of that free cookie waiting for them at the bakery counter? Keeping control of your children in a parking lot is an essential, but sometimes impossible task.

As a driver there is a substantial duty of care. The height of a three year old makes them virtually invisible to a driver. Some children are taller than mine, but the middle child is just about even with the grill of a Buick Le Sabre. So what is the law, and what are your responsibilities as a mother? Or as a driver?

As a general rule, pedestrians are obligated to observe traffic control devices as well as specific pedestrian control devices under O.C.G.A. §40-6-90. This is common sense out on the roadway, but what about the parking lot situations described above. Georgia law addresses the areas immediately outside the doors of grocery stores: “The driver of a vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk…" O.C.G.A. §40-6-91. Subsection (d) covers a situation that I have personally observed within the last 12 months. “Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk…the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear, shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle." So if the person in front of you has no where special to be and is letting 30 people cross in front of him, your only option is to back up and go a different way.

If a pedestrian encounters a car at any point other than the marked crosswalk, the pedestrian shall yield the right of way, UNLESS the pedestrian, under safe conditions has already entered the roadway. O.C.G.A. §40-6-92(a). This is not a carte blanche for pedestrians to try to beat cars out into traffic, for both legal and practical purposes. In a legal sense, Georgia law specifically prohibits the practice of crossing a road between intersections (jaywalking) where safe crosswalks are reasonably available, and simply establishing position in the roadway does not protect you. And of course from a practical sense, once you are pinned under a car, the debate over who had position will seem quite insignificant.

To go back to our central theme of the kids in the parking lot, O.C.G.A. §40-6-93 specifically calls upon drivers to exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrians, and specifically mentions children, noting that a driver must “exercise proper precautions upon observing any child…". In the areas where the parking lot is not marked as a crosswalk, I believe deference will be given to the pedestrian, especially a child. For those who may want to argue that technically the parking lot is not a street and not governed by the rules of the road, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-3 specifically references shopping mall parking lots as examples as to where the “rules of the road" apply.

So the next time you are in a hurry and want to make a quick exit, park at the back of the lot and walk in to the store. Beyond criminal offenses, you open yourself up to a civil suit as well. A jury will not want to hear about how late you were to w, y, or z. Assume that there is always my little 3 year old walking out of the store, just below the height of your bumper, munching happily on her free cookie without a care in the world

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