Traffic deaths in Michigan are up 2% this year, making it an opportune time to give drivers a refresher on Michigan’s forgotten (or ignored) traffic rules.
So we asked Lieutenant Micheal Shaw of the Michigan State Police to help drivers brush up on the rules of the road.
It is a natural law of Michigan: for every day of nice weather there is an increase and expansion of road work.
The construction is mostly annoying because of the traffic jams it causes. But there’s a solution: the zipper merge.
Most people think that when they’re approaching a lane closure, they need to get over as soon as they possibly can — and that everyone who doesn’t is a horribly rude driver who doesn’t deserve to be let in because they’re gaming the system.
But Lt. Shaw says that way of thinking is actually really inefficient.
“Basically what you’re doing is you’re taking very good lanes of traffic and no longer using them," he said. "So you’re making the line waiting to go through that construction point twice as long because you’re not using that lane of travel.”
Instead, it’s much safer and easier to stay in both lanes as long as you can, and then merge once you get to the end of the lane.
“And it’s just like a zipper,” says Shaw. “One car goes, then the other lane goes, next car goes, then the other one goes. You slow down for a couple of seconds, and then you’re all through the merge point and everybody travels a lot faster.”
The zipper merge is not only faster, but it’s safer because it reduces rear end crashes.
“So just stay in your lane, use them both, come up to the merge point, zip right in. It’s simple, it’s easy to do, it just requires one little thing that we seem to have lost, and that’s courtesy.”
We’ve all done it. Some jagweed cuts you off, and as pay back, you drive as close to their bumper as you can.
As a result, says Lt. Shaw, “people drive down the freeway, traffic jams on the brakes, you see people dart out onto the shoulder. Those people were all too close to the car in front of them.”
Accordingly, tailgating is the number one cause of traffic crashes in Michigan.
“People don’t want to leave that space in there where somebody can get in front of them. They all think the race is on to get to wherever they’re going, and if I leave [space] in there, somebody will get in front of me.”
Lt. Shaw advises that you leave enough space to stop at a “sure, clear distance.”
The key is to try to dial back on the vengefulness while driving. In other words, says Shaw, “somebody’s got to be the bigger person.”
And if someone is aggressively trying to tailgate you, the safest option is to just let them pass.
“‘Cuz what’s gonna happen, is the person that cut you off is the one that you’re gonna pass by on the shoulder eventually that rear-ended the vehicle in front of them, and has got a ticket and higher insurance rates in their future.”
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of traffic crashes in Michigan, but there is actually no catch-all distracted driving law in Michigan.
There’s a texting while driving law, where you’re not allowed to put information into a device while the vehicle is moving. Technically, that law is written so that if you’re stopped (for example, at a light or in a traffic jam), you are allowed to use your phone. But Lt. Shaw says that causes a lot of rear ending crashes.
“Because usually what somebody will be doing is looking down, out of the corner of their eye see traffic start to move, they’ll hit the gas, and then the car in front of them stops and then boom, you have a rear end crash.”
The police recommend that you not use your phone at all.
“If you’re doing something else besides driving, it requires a part of your brain,” says Shaw. “So we use the term, ‘Get your head out of your app.’”
Left lane driving
The rules around using the left lane changes depending on how many lanes there are.
There are a lot of signs along Michigan’s two-lane highways that read: “Keep Right Except to Pass.” That’s because sitting in the left lane is not allowed.
Lt. Shaw emphasizes that the left lane is for passing only. And that, “you have to do the speed limit to pass, and then get back over.”
Plus, sitting in the left lane can hold up traffic.
If there are three or more lanes, you are allowed to use the left lane. But Lt. Shaw prefers that people still try to stay out of the left lane, since emergency vehicles use that lane.
“We always say the roadways are for everybody,” says Lt. Shaw. “It’s not just for cars, it’s not just for bicycles, and it’s not just for pedestrians. And all three of those groups make errors in judgement as they try to share the road because they think they all [own] it.”
Some rules for cars include leaving at three feet of space when passing a cyclist.
“And if you have to go over the yellow line a bit to avoid running over a bicyclist, then yeah, go ahead and go over that little yellow line. We’ll give you a pass on that one.”
And it’s important for cyclists to remember that they have to follow the rules of the road: bikes are legally required to stop at stop signs and obey traffic lights. Bikes are also required to have a front and back light to ride at night.
For pedestrians, the biggest rule is that you have to cross at a crosswalk.
At the end of the day, “common sense is the biggest thing in the world,” says Shaw. “Common sense is really something that we need to get back into — a little common sense and a little common courtesy.”