Do we all need to take drivers ed again?

Now that snow has finally settled in West Michigan it's officially "winter driving season". The rules of the road seem to change a bit once they're covered with snow. Michiganders know to allow more time reach their destination and to leave a bigger gap between you and the next car, but one thing that never changes? The laws regarding Michigan's center turn lane.

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Yep, it's still just for turning only! Or were you unaware in the first place?

This is all fresh in my mind as it literally just happened on my way into work this morning: I was approaching my turn into work and was about to get into the center turn lane but just as I was about to do so another car came barreling out of the post office parking lot and was using the center lane to get up to speed and merge into my lane.

We found ourselves in a real crisscross situation. I'm sure you've been in one before too! These can be unnerving enough as is but when you factor in the snow and slick roads it's downright dangerous.

Thankfully I was able to make it into the center lane and make my turn in time, but not before I thought I was going to slide across icy, busy Gull Road and into a stop sign. Thanks, dude.

It may arguably be one of the most misconstrued rules of the road and I'll be the first to admit that I used to do it too! That is, until someone told me better:

the center turn lane is NOT a merging lane.

To clarify, I'm not talking about those drivers who get into the center lane way too early and ride until it becomes a designated turn lane; I'm talking about those of use who are turning left onto a busy roadway.

Because there's a lot of confusion over this rule I had to dig up an old MLive article on the subject to set the record straight. In a 2016 "Ask a Trooper" segment Trooper Joe Normandin with the Michigan State Police said,

when you are driving on a five lane roadway containing a center turn lane you may only use the center lane for completing a left turn. The center lane may also not be used for passing...Also, the center lane may not be entered until the left turn is to be completed. Conversely, the center lane is not to be used as a merge lane for traffic entering the roadway.

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Need it in broken down into plain English? Essentially Trooper Normandin is saying:

  • The center lane is only for turning left.
  • Don't get into the turn lane until you're ready to make your left turn (a.k.a. don't get into the turn lane too early)
  • You can't pass on the left by using the center turn lane
  • Don't use the turn lane to get up to speed OR sit there until the coast is clear. If you're turning left and have to wait a while until the coast is clear, then you just have to wait.

Again, I used to be one of these drivers too! It's a very overlooked, unenforced rule of the road-- but it is the rule. I'm just the messenger!

You can brush up Michigan Vehicle Code 257.649 here.

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