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Can I cut through private property to avoid traffic or traffic signals? – Sheila, Toronto

Cutting through a gas station to avoid waiting at a red light is the driving equivalent of walking into a restaurant just to use the bathroom. It's sneaky, but it's allowed, unless there's a sign saying it's not allowed.

"There's nothing in the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that stops you from doing it – in most cases, they're public access anyway," says Const. Clint Stibbe with Toronto Police Service. "But if there's a sign up saying 'No Through Traffic,' then it would be enforceable under the Trespass to Property Act."

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So, if there's a sign banning cutting through that mall, bank or gas station parking lot and you do it anyway, you could be fined up to $2,000.

"You don't see the signs that often, but there are places in Toronto that do have them," Stibbe says. "Whether it can be enforced is another question."

So, what happens if you do it? If a police officer sees you trespassing, you could be pulled over and given a ticket.

If there's no police around, the act also says the property owner or a representative can detain you until police arrive. "But if someone's driving in their car, will they let a security guard arrest them?" Stibbe says.

If the 7-Eleven clerk takes a photo or video of you, they'd have to prove you were driving, Stibbe says. Although, the law says the owner of a vehicle can be charged even if they weren't driving – unless they can prove it was being driven without their permission.

If there's no sign but you drive like a maniac on your shortcut, police could charge you – even though Ontario's HTA generally does not apply on public property. Ontario's the only province with this exception. But, police there could still lay other charges, including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle under section 249 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

The same goes if you hit someone or something.

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"If (cutting through private property) causes a collision, a police officer, upon examining the unique facts and circumstances of the incident, at their discretion, may determine whether a charge should be laid," says Ontario's Ministry of Transportation in an e-mail statement.

Of course, your shortcut has to be through somewhere you'd normally be allowed to drive – and not through a park or across somebody's lawn. That's trespassing.

If you try this somewhere else, it could be a different story. Traffic rules are different for every province and territory. On top of that, each municipality has its own traffic bylaws.

For example, driving on private property to avoid a traffic sign or light is illegal in Quebec under section 312 of the Highway Safety Code. If you are convicted, it is a $100 fine, plus $60 in fees, say Montreal police.

Stop at the sidewalk

If you're driving in the United States, there might be state laws or local bylaws specifically banning cutting across private property. It depends on where you are.

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Toronto doesn't ban these shortcuts, but other city bylaws could apply, Stibbe says.

For example, you still have to come to a complete stop before the sidewalk on your way back onto the road. If you don't, you can be ticketed under Toronto by-law 950-200: No person shall operate a vehicle or streetcar emerging from a driveway, laneway, front yard parking area, boulevard parking area, building, streetcar or bus loop onto a highway until bringing the vehicle or streetcar to a full stop immediately before driving onto a sidewalk or footpath, and upon proceeding shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians upon the sidewalk or footpath.

We checked with police in Calgary and Vancouver. There, provincial laws require you to stop before crossing a sidewalk. If you don't, you could be charged.

"When you exit that parking lot, the sidewalk becomes a stop sign," says Vancouver Police Const. Brian Montague. "It doesn't matter if you can see that nobody's coming, you have to come to a complete stop before crossing it."

What do you think of drivers who cut through parking lots? Do you do it yourself? Is this banned where you live? If not, should it be? Join the conversation in our comments section.

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