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5 Facts on Michigan Traffic Laws Clarified


You went to traffic school and think you know all there is to know about driving in Michigan, right? Think again. There are numerous misconceptions about operating a vehicle on public roads in this state, which is why today’s post tackles and aims to clarify five of them.

Michigan lefts don’t add to travel time

If you live in Michigan, you probably don’t need the concept of “Michigan left” explained to you, but allowing for the situation in which you’ve just arrived in the state, here’s an explanation. In some intersections in Michigan, you’re not allow to turn left. If you absolutely need to, you can continue your road straight ahead or turn right, then make a U-turn at a median crossover. Michigan lefts may seem odd for those from other states, but, given the fact they’ve been around since the late 1960s at the very least, chances are they’re here to stay. Some, of course, find them annoying and believe they make the trip last longer, but this is in fact incorrect. It’s been proven by the University of North Carolina that lefts rerouted as rights, followed by U-turns, can improve travel times by up to 20 percent.

You can’t open a drink inside a car even as a passenger

That’s right: put away that beer can, even if you’re not the one driving; and even if you’re in a van or a bus. The law specifically stipulates that no containers of intoxicants can be opened in the passenger section of a car. Some exceptions are allowed, such as cars without trunks, or licensed vehicles, such as those operated by limousine rental companies. According to road safety experts, it doesn’t matter if the can is open 25 feet away from the driver (as could happen in a motor home, for instance). The law is very clear that: “a person who is an operator or occupant shall not transport or possess alcoholic liquor in a container that is open or uncapped or upon which the seal is broken within the passenger compartment of a vehicle upon a highway, or within the passenger compartment of a moving vehicle in any place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles”. So what if you break the law? You and everyone inside the car will get fined – which is not exactly pleasant for anyone involved.

Texting and driving in Michigan? Think again

Most drivers know that laws in the majority of U.S. states specifically target drivers who use their phones while driving. In fact, regulations imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (or NHSA) specifically address “distractions.” What qualifies as a driving distraction? Just about anything that diminishes your hand-eye coordination focus on driving. In other words, anything that would require you to take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Examples include shaving, eating, drinking, fixing one’s makeup, any kind of reading, etc.. Now, distractions are serious business, given how many casualties they cause in the U.S. each year. In 2005 alone, 39,252 fatal car crashes happened in the U.S. and 4,026 of them were the work of distracted drivers. Though the overall number of fatal traffic accidents diminished from 2005 to 2009 (when it was down to 30,797) both the number and the proportion of accidents caused by distracted drivers were on the up and up, from 10 to 16 percent, and up to 4,898, respectively.

Michigan laws in this respect are strict – and became even more strict and specific in late October last year, when drivers of commercial vehicles and school buses were expressly prohibited from talking on the phone while driving. The updated law still allows them to use a handsfree device for this purpose. No drivers in Michigan are allowed to text while driving, and level one and two drivers (who are usually teens) are not allowed to talk on the phone either, unless there’s an emergency situation, or they have access to a handsfree device. The law on teens is called Kelsey’s Law and it was named after Kelsey Raffaele, a teenager in Sault Sainte Marie, who died because she was using her cell phone while behind the wheel.

You have to stop for yellow lights

Some drivers take yellow lights as warning signals: slow down, but not stop necessarily. This, in fact, is incorrect, according to the provisions of the local road safety laws. They specifically mandate drivers to stop, not speed up, unless they’re in a traffic situation in which stopping would be unsafe for them. So, if you see a yellow light, don’t push the pedal to the metal, hoping to make it just in time before the light turns red. Yellow literally means stop.

It’s illegal to ride a bike drunk

Don’t get us wrong, we are by no means condoning the operation of any moving vehicle, be it a car, truck, bus, moped, or bike, after the operator has consumed alcohol. However, the situation is different for bikes. For cars, it’s relatively simple: drive drunk, risk a DUI, having your license and car insurance revoked, get a new license and an SR22 insurance, in some cases. But there is no law in Michigan’s Vehicle Code which says that you can’t ride a bike under the influence.

The law says you cannot operate a vehicle, indeed, but according to the Vehicle Code, a bike doesn’t qualify, since it doesn’t have an engine. So drunk bike riding, though specifically outlawed in many other states, is not against any law in Michigan. However, as the road safety experts questioned about this explained, a police officer can cite you for drunk and disorderly conduct. One situation recounted by one of the experts in question involved people who were riding their bikes drunk, in the middle of the day, down a four lane highway. Bottom line: stay safe, ride your bike by the book, and you will get away with riding bikes under the influence in Michigan.

By: Jimmy Simond



SR22 Insurance

National Conference of State Legislatures