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What Are The Rules For Passing Another Vehicle Or Bicycle On The Road In Michigan?

Everyone is busy these days. There seems to be no end to the daily list of things to do and places to be. When operating on a tight schedule, there is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck behind another vehicle driving under the speed limit. Even worse, this slow-moving vehicle is encountered on a one-lane road so it is almost certain that you will be late to your appointment unless you can get around it. What are the laws regarding passing another vehicle? What happens if you illegally pass a vehicle and you find yourself pulled over by the police?

The following are the rules in the Michigan Vehicle Code regarding passing another vehicle encountered on the roadway:

  • As a general rule, "[d]rivers of vehicles proceeding in opposite directions shall pass each other to the right, each giving to the other not less than 1/2 of the main traveled portion of the roadway as nearly as possible." MCL 257.635(1). There is generally no reason to be on the left of an approaching vehicle unless you had lost control of the vehicle or had to take some type of evasive action to avoid an imminent collision.
  • When overtaking and passing a vehicle proceeding in the same direction, drivers must obey the following rules:
  1. "The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance to the left of that vehicle, and when safely clear of the overtaken vehicle shall take up a position as near the right-hand edge of the main traveled portion of the highway as is practicable." MCL 257.636(1)(a).
  2. "Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle." MCL 257.636(1)(b).
  • A driver may overtake and pass on the right side of another vehicle ONLY if one or more of the following conditions exist:
  1. "When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn." MCL 257.637(1)(a).
  2. "Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of moving vehicles in each direction and when the vehicles are moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic." MCL 257.637(1)(b).
  3. "Upon a 1-way street, or upon a roadway on which traffic is restricted to 1 direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of moving vehicles and when the vehicles are moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic." MCL 257.637(1)(c).
  • "The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting the overtaking and passing in safety. The driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway." MCL 257.637(2).
  • "A vehicle shall not be driven to the left side of the center of a 2-lane highway or in the center lane of a 3-lane highway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the left side or center lane is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit the overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or the vehicle overtaken." MCL 257.638(1).
  • However, a vehicle may not overtake and pass another vehicle on the left side of the road (EXCEPT when driving on a one-way street or highway) under ANY of the following situations:
  1. "When approaching the crest of a grade or upon a curve in the highway where the driver's view is obstructed within a distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction." MCL 257.639(1)(a).
  2. "When the view is obstructed upon approaching within 100 feet of a bridge, viaduct, or tunnel." MCL 257.639(1)(b).
  • Even if otherwise permitted by the Michigan Vehicle Code, a driver is prohibited from overtaking and passing a vehicle where there are signs posted designating a "no-passing zone". MCL 257.640(3).

The following rules pertain to a motor vehicle passing a bicycle on a roadway:

  • "The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance of at least 3 feet to the left of that bicycle or, if it is impracticable to pass the bicycle at a distance of 3 feet to the left, at a safe distance to the left of that bicycle at a safe speed, and when safely clear of the overtaken bicycle shall take up a position as near the right-hand edge of the main traveled portion of the highway as is practicable." MCL 257.636(2).
  • "The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall... pass at a distance of 3 feet to the right of that bicycle or, if it is impracticable to pass the bicycle at a distance of 3 feet to the right, at a safe distance to the right of that bicycle at a safe speed" only if ANY of the following conditions exist (MCL 257.637(3)):
  1. When the bicycle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn.
  2. Upon a street or highway with unobstructed pavement not occupied by parked vehicles of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of moving vehicles in each direction and when the vehicles and bicycles are moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic.
  3. Upon a 1-way street, or upon a roadway on which traffic is restricted to 1 direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of moving vehicles and when the vehicles and bicycles are moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic.
  • "IF IT IS SAFE TO DO SO, the driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle proceeding in the same direction may overtake and pass the bicycle in a no-passing zone." MCL 257.636(3).

Drivers who violate these rules regarding improper passing will be responsible for a civil infraction punishable by a fine and THREE points added to their Michigan driving record. Even worse, improper passing can lead to a head-on collision that can injure or even kill the occupants of all vehicles involved. The survivors can sue the at-fault driver in civil court for substantial amounts of money for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and possibly punitive damages if a judge or jury concludes that the driver was negligent or unreasonable.

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 experience traffic attorney at your side may be able to convince the judge that the passing was permissible by law or necessary under the circumstances to avoid a crash. 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). Paying a fine 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. It may be tempting to simply admit responsibility and pay the ticket, but the financial consequences can affect you for years to come.

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

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