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Is It Illegal To Drive In The Left Lane In Michigan?

It may be a distant memory, but Michigan drivers may recall from the driver's education classes in their teenage years that they were taught to avoid driving in the left lane on the road because that is intended to be a passing lane only. Did you know that this is not just roadway etiquette but it is also required under the Michigan Vehicle Code? Many drivers may be surprised to learn that they can be pulled over and issued a citation for cruising in the left lane even if all other aspects of their driving was consistent with the law.

On a roadway that has 2 or more lanes going in one direction, Michigan drivers must obey the following rules:

  • Vehicles shall drive in the extreme right-hand lane of the roadway, but may use the left lane "[w]hen overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing that movement." MCL 257.631(1)(a).
  • Vehicles may use the left lane "[w]hen the right half of a roadway is closed to traffic while under construction or repair or when an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway. A driver who is driving on the left half of a roadway under this subdivision shall yield the right-of-way to an oncoming vehicle traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the roadway." MCL 257.631(1)(b).
  • Vehicles may use the left lane "[w]hen a vehicle operated by a state agency or a local authority or an agent of a state agency or local authority is engaged in work on the roadway." (e.g. police officers have a vehicle pulled over on the right shoulder). MCL 257.631(1)(c).
  • However, on a two-lane road, ", the driver of a vehicle may drive the vehicle in any lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel when the lanes are occupied by vehicles moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic and in any left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel for a reasonable distance before making a left turn." MCL 257.631(2).
  • "Upon a roadway with 4 or more lanes that provides for 2-way movement of traffic, a vehicle shall be operated 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." MCL 257.641(1)(a).
  • "Upon a roadway that is divided into 3 lanes and provides for 2-way movement of traffic (e.g. one lane on each side of the road going in opposite directions and divided by a "left-hand turn lane"), a vehicle shall not be operated in the center lane except when overtaking and passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction, when the center lane is clear of traffic within a safe distance, or in preparation for a left turn, or where the center lane is at the time allocated exclusively to traffic moving in the same direction the vehicle is proceeding and the allocation is designated by official traffic control devices." MCL 257.641(1)(b).

If on a freeway that has 3 or more lanes, a driver is permitted to use ANY lane that is lawfully available. "Freeway" means "a divided arterial highway for through traffic with full control of access and with all crossroads separated in grade from pavements for through traffic (e.g. interstate highways where crossroads pass over or under bridges). MCL 257.18a. However, "[t]he driver of a truck with a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds, a truck tractor, or a combination of a vehicle and trailer or semitrailer shall drive the vehicle or combination of vehicles only in either of the 2 lanes farthest to the right, except for a reasonable distance when making a left turn or where a special hazard exists that requires the use of an alternative lane for safety reasons." MCL 257.631(3).

Drivers who violate these rules regarding improper lane use or left-of-center driving will be responsible for a civil infraction punishable by a fine and TWO points added to their Michigan driving record.

A person accused of a civil infraction is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. An experienced traffic attorney can be of assistance during an evidentiary hearing and can convince the judge that the driver's left-hand lane use was justified under the law or necessary under the circumstances. Even if the evidence against you is strong, the attorney may even be able to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that may involve admitting responsibility instead to a moving violation with no points (e.g. impeding traffic) or a non-moving violation (e.g. double parking). Pleading to a lesser offense, especially one that is not abstracted or reported to the Michigan Secretary of State, may protect you from significant increases in your premiums assessed by your auto insurance carrier.

If you or a loved one is accused of improper lane use or any traffic violation, do not hesitate to contact the skilled lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.

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