Rules of the Road

How close are you allowed to park your car to a stop sign?

Where can you legally park

Where can legally park on the street and where is it illegal to park? The California DMV gives the dos and don'ts of parking.
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Where can legally park on the street and where is it illegal to park? The California DMV gives the dos and don'ts of parking.

Question: I thought there was a rule that required people to park at least 20 feet from stop signs, but I often see cars parked much closer. Is there limit on how close you can park? If there is, how far away is it?

Answer: There is a limit.

In fact, there are lots of limits around parking. Some of them just help the world spin smoother (like not parking in a loading zone), but most of them have an actual safety function.

Before we get into the details though, let’s take care of some terminology.

The law that includes parking near a stop sign is called, “Stopping, standing, or parking prohibited in specified places – reserving portion of highway prohibited.” Within the law, the terms “stopping”, “standing” and “parking” each have a specific meaning.

Stopping: Any halting of a vehicle, even momentary. You get an exemption if you’re stopping to avoid a collision or because you’re following the direction of a police officer or traffic signal.

Standing: If you’re stopped longer than a moment and you’re not loading or unloading people from your vehicle, you’re standing. It’s basically the same as a no-loading zone. You can drop off your friend, but you can’t drop a package off to your friend.

Parking: If you’re stopped longer than a moment and you’re not loading or unloading people or stuff from your vehicle, you’re parking. In Washington, you don’t have to leave your car or even shut it off to qualify as parking.

The law divides the rules into several parts, starting with the prohibitions on stopping, which by definition includes standing and parking.

I know lists are boring, but indulge me for a moment in an effort to be comprehensive. Here’s the list of where stopping, standing and parking is not allowed:

On the roadway side of a parked vehicle (double-parking).

On a sidewalk.

In an intersection.

On a crosswalk.

Within 30 feet of a pedestrian safety zone — these are areas of the roadway that are marked exclusively for pedestrians.

In a construction area or near an obstruction if stopping will interfere with traffic.

On a bridge or in a tunnel.

On railroad tracks.

The next part applies only to standing and parking. Here’s where you’ll find the answer to the original question:

Within five feet of a driveway.

Within 15 feet of a fire hydrant.

Within 20 feet of a crosswalk.

Within 30 feet upon the approach of a stop sign, yield sign or traffic control signal.

Within 20 feet of a fire station driveway and on the opposite side of the street within 75 feet of the fire station driveway (when posted).

The part of the law that applies just to parking has only one prohibition:

Within 50 feet of a railroad crossing.

In addition, all three parts include the catch-all phrase, “at any place where official signs prohibit” stopping, standing or parking.

Violating a few of these rules, like stopping in a tunnel or on train tracks, have some obvious risks to the person doing the stopping, but many of the parking rules are there to help other drivers.

Parking near a stop sign might not create much risk for the parker, but it does create problems for drivers who no longer have sufficient visibility as they enter an intersection.

When the only available space on the block is in front of a stop sign it might be tempting to take it, but think of parking as an opportunity to demonstrate your care for fellow road users. Your parked car may create the environment that contributes to a future crash.

Plus, you don’t want the only thing other drivers know about you to be that you’re a lousy parker.

While we’re on the topic, there is one last part to the parking law that states that it’s “unlawful for any person to reserve or attempt to reserve any portion of a highway for the purpose of stopping, standing, or parking ...”

This is the “no saving spots” law. If you’re driving down a street and see an available parking spot on the other side, it’s not legal for your passenger to hop out and stand in the spot, saving it, until you can go around the block and come back the other way.

And if you’re looking for a parking spot and see someone saving it, don’t (and I feel like it’s obvious) run them over. Several folks have made national news either being the saver or the runner-over. In those cases no one wins.

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Doug Dahl, Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force, answers questions about road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices every Monday. Ask him a question using our form. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com.
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