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Police Patrol Parking Lots But Dangerous Driving Persists

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CARY — Interstates and intersections may seem like the most dangerous places to drive, but they are not. It isn't the bargain hunters you have to worry about the next time you go to the mall, it's the parking lots.

Police officers patrol our streets for bad drivers, but there's very little they can do to enforce laws in the final frontier: parking lots.

In one Triangle town, one quarter of all traffic accidents took place in parking lots, costing an average of $1,500 per person.

Six months on the job as a mall security officer and Sandra Wilson has an advanced degree on the perils of parking lots.

Wilson says she's seen it all. "[People] going through the stop signs, not using the blinkers, backing out of parking spaces too quickly, and just not [being] aware of their surroundings, of other vehicles or pedestrians," Wilson says.

We left our camera rolling at one parking lot intersection and recorded almost two dozen cars breezing through in ten minutes.

Cary resident Bonnie Craig is really bothered by people speeding through stop signs.

Cary Police Lieutenant Doug Scott is bothered too, but not surprised.

Scott provides a running monologue as he watches drivers navigate parking lots. "Look at that, now she's going back down the street. She's already causing people to zig zag around her. And there's a parking spot that's seriously not 50 feet from where she parked to begin with," Scott says.

Scott routinely sees people speeding in narrow, pedestrian-filled service lanes designed for an absolute maximum of 20 miles per hour.

He brought a radar gun to demonstrate. A Jeep going 28 miles per hour was the speeder of the day. But at least it stayed in designated lanes.

Scott was mesmerized as a Cadillac cut across several lanes in the parking lot and pulled directly in front of a Lincoln.

So why do we do things in parking lots we would never try on public roads? Probably because we can get away with it.

"There's nobody watching. There are no lights," says Raleigh resident Sharmane Shellman. "You're gunning and running at your own will. You're in a hurry and the lot is close together and there are no police to patrol anything."

Stop signs and speed limits are little more than window dressing at most shopping centers. Even on a four lane road at one Triangle mall, police are basically powerless.

"Most of the violations that are applicable on public streets are not applicable in parking lots," Scott says.

Sandra Wilson says she has learned her lesson on the street and in parking lots.

"Just always be on the lookout for the other drivers. Be a defensive driver, especially in a parking lot," Wilson advises.

Officers also offer these safety tips:
  • Drive like every space is occupied.
  • Don't cut through parking lanes.
  • Try to park your car so you can pull forward out of a space, instead of backing out.
  • Don't assume someone is going straight ahead just because a car's turn signal isn't on.
  • The most likely way to get ticketed in a parking lot is to cause an accident by speeding, failing to yield or stop, or cutting through parking alleys.

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    Len Besthoff, Reporter
    Richard Adkins, Photographer
    Julie Moos, Web Editor

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