MARQUETTE - That highway center turn lane you're using as a merge lane?
Stop it. Really, stop it or your might find yourself with a ticket.
The use of the center lane in a five-lane highway is just one of the traffic laws that seems to create at best, a ball of confusion, and at worst, dangerous situations.
A vehicle, left, leaves the turning lane as the driver merges into eastbound traffic on US-41 near the Lowe’s intersection. Using the turning lane as a merge lane is one of the traffic misconceptions that are common in Marquette (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
A button gives pedestrians more time when crossing the road at intersections, but only when it’s safe to walk. (Journal photo by Amy Treloar)
Stacy Rasanen, a community service trooper with the Michigan State Police at the post in Negaunee Township, sat down with The Mining Journal to talk about some of the most common misinterpretations of traffic law.
"The center turn lane is not a merge lane," Rasanen said. "You should stop, yield the right of way to any other traffic, then go when it's clear.
"You could be given a ticket for failing to yield the right of way if you try to use it as an acceleration lane."
From the Michigan State Police website: www.michigan.gov/msp
Question: Is it against the law to drive in the left lane when not passing another vehicle?
Answer: Here is what MCL 257.634 has to say about lane driving.
If the road has 2 or more lanes in one direction, vehicles shall be driven in the extreme right-hand lane. If all lanes are occupied by vehicles moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic then a driver can use any lane available. A driver may also use the left lane for a reasonable distance when preparing for a left turn.
On a freeway having 3 or more lanes, a driver may use any lane lawfully available.
MCL 257.642 gives further direction and states in part, "Upon a roadway with 4 or more lanes which provides for 2-way movement of traffic, a vehicle shall be driven within the extreme right-hand lane except when overtaking and passing, but shall not cross the center line of the roadway except where making a left turn."
Question: Is it against the law to talk on a cell phone while driving in Michigan?
Answer: Michigan does not have a law specifically prohibiting cell phone calls in a vehicle. A driver who becomes distracted by using a cell phone, and commits a traffic violation could be charged with careless driving, or with the specific violation, such as improper lane use, if they are drifting in and out of their lane.
Some municipalities have recently enacted local ordinances that prohibit using a cellular phone while driving within their respective jurisdiction. Any municipality that establishes such an ordinance should post notification at their jurisdictional boundaries to alert motorists.
How about those wide lanes in turnarounds, the spots where one drives to make a "Michigan Left"?
"Those sections are made wide for trucks and other bigger vehicles," Rasanen said. "The correct place to be is on the left, closest to the curb. Those that 'snuggle in' on the right create a situation where no one knows who is supposed to go when it's clear. So wait your turn and go one at a time, not two at the same time."
A ticket for careless driving, failure to yield or improper lane use could be issued to a driver who violates the lane's use.
How about driving in the left lane on a four-lane highway, something that frequently creates discussion among drivers?
"It's a highway not a freeway," Rasanen said. "It is against the law to drive in the left lane unless you are passing."
Exception is made for those within a "reasonable distance" of preparing to make a left turn, something that officers would use judgment for before issuing a ticket.
And since there are few freeways anywhere in the Upper Peninsula, Rasanen said, "People do not have to 'get over' to let you in if you're trying to get on the highway from a driveway or another road. That's only on a freeway."
Rasanen said pedestrian safety is always a concern and wanted to share some information that might be unfamiliar to some.
"When you're a pedestrian, many intersections now have a button you can push that will assist you in having enough time to get across the street, so please use them when available," she said. "There was an old woman in Negaunee one day who wasn't using the button and kept running back when the light changed when she was in the middle of crossing U.S. 41. You don't want to see that.
"If there's a button at the intersection, please press it. It's so much safer that way."
Safety, too, is a heightened concern for law enforcement officials at accident sites.
"We will be at the scene of a traffic crash, wearing our yellow vests, with flares up all around, and people will try to keep driving at the speed limit," she said. "They need to slow down and they need to get off their cell phones and pay attention, to be aware of the accident.
"But also, don't gawk," she said. "And don't try to drive and take photos at the same time."
While Michigan does not have a law specifically prohibiting adults from cell calls while driving, the MSP website states "a driver who becomes distracted by using a cell phone, and commits a traffic violation could be charged with careless driving, or with the specific violation, such as improper lane use, if they are drifting in and out of their lane."
The website also states: "Michigan law bans texting while driving for all drivers and Kelsey's Law prohibits cell phone use for Level 1 and Level 2 (teen) license holders."
Some other traffic-related issues Rasanen touched on:
- Always wear a seatbelt.
- Always use the appropriate seat for any children in the vehicle. The proper seat is based on age.
- While there is no minimum speed limit on highways in Michigan - only on freeways is there a minimum - if a driver is going well under the limit and has a number of vehicles following behind, it is common courtesy to find a safe place to pull over to let those cars proceed at the speed limit.
- While parking lots generally do not have posted speed limits, again, it is common courtesy to slow down and to watch for pedestrians.
- While there is no prohibition to passing more than one vehicle at a time, Rasanen said she wanted to remind drivers of something.
"More than likely, that means you're exceeding the speed limit," she said.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.