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How to Properly Merge onto Our State’s Expressways

How to Properly Merge onto Our State’s Expressways

It seems like getting from entrance ramps onto Michigan’s network of highways is becoming more challenging all the time. Traffic is always growing, cars already traveling down the freeway are moving at high rates of speed, and many drivers leave little or no space for other vehicles to slip into the flow of 70-mph traffic. It can be downright scary.

But if everyone were to observe the state’s rules of the road, exhibit courtesy to other drivers, and obey posted speed limits, things may improve a bit. So we’re taking the opportunity to offer a quick refresher on Michigan’s laws regarding right-of-way – which govern how to properly get on the expressways (and other limited-access roads) we all use every day.

All of the state’s rules of the road are spelled out in a 92-page handbook titled “What Every Driver Must Know” published by the Secretary of State’s Office. You’re welcome to study it in detail… or you can instead read this slightly more digestible article to get the gist of how Michigan law defines traffic right-of-way for motorists. Here we go!

What Exactly is “Right-of-Way” and Why Does It Matter?

The term “right-of-way” refers to which a vehicle that has the priority of going first in a situation where two or more vehicles are attempting to enter the same lane. For example, cars going through a green light at an intersection almost always have the right of way over vehicles stopped at the red light (exceptions being an emergency vehicle with lights on, law enforcement officer directing traffic, crossing guard or construction worker with a stop sign, school bus, etc.). This also includes cars waiting to turn right on the red light (which must yield to vehicles that are proceeding straight through the green light); as you know, the turning cars are required to wait until oncoming traffic clears before completing their right turns.

The objective of defining “right-of-way” is to prevent traffic accidents by ensuring that all drivers know when it’s their turn to step on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal. But knowing exactly who has the right-of-way can seem a little more challenging when all the vehicles are moving — which is what often happens when cars are traveling down a freeway entrance ramp and attempting to join the flow of traffic that’s moving at highway speed. To understand the correct (and safest) way to enter a limited-access highway, you need to fully comprehend the meaning of the word “yield” as it relates to traffic control.

What’s the Difference Between “Yield” and “Merge” When Approaching a Highway?

You may be surprised to learn that these are two very different concepts. Specifically, a yield sign requires you to give way to oncoming vehicles and – if necessary – even come to a complete stop until a break in traffic permits you to resume driving. A merge sign, on the other hand, directs you to gradually enter the flow of traffic. However, when merging you must do so safely, observing other vehicles and avoiding them while moving onto the highway. If it is unsafe to smoothly merge due to the flow of traffic, Michigan law gives right-of-way priority to vehicles already on the highway. This means that even when there is only a merge sign in place, you have a legal requirement to yield if you can’t safely enter the roadway.

How Does Michigan Law Define Which Drivers Have Right-of-Way When Merging onto a Highway?

To quote the Michigan State Police: “A driver entering a roadway from a roadway that is intended for and constructed as a merging roadway, and is plainly marked at the intersection with the appropriate merge signs, shall yield the right-of-way to traffic upon the roadway that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard and shall adjust their speed to enable them to merge safely with through traffic.”

If that language sounds confusing, we agree. Fortunately, the Michigan State Police seem to feel the same way, so they’ve offered this clarifying statement: “Simply put, a driver merging onto a freeway must yield to traffic upon the freeway. It must be noted that traffic on the freeway cannot intentionally block a driver from merging by either speeding up or slowing down.”

One state trooper provided his take on the subject in a recent newspaper article. In his words, it’s a “nice courtesy” when drivers already on the highway move to the left lane to permit other drivers to enter the road more easily — but it’s not a requirement.

To sum up, whenever you’re trying to get onto a highway, you need to give way to vehicles that are already in its travel lanes. If you fail to do so, and cause an accident in the process, you could be ticketed for failure to yield – which means points added to your driving record and likely a fine to be paid. Needless to say, it could also make you liable in a personal injury lawsuit. To help prevent that from happening, check this more complete description of Michigan laws regarding right-of-way at a variety of intersections – including those with traffic signals, stop signs, and other forms of traffic control.

What About Yielding at Roundabouts?

As we explained last summer, you’ll continue to see an increasing number of stoplights removed and replaced by traffic circles across the state of Michigan; this is part of a statewide initiative for improving traffic flow and increasing fuel economy. Whenever you approach a roundabout, you must yield to vehicles already in the traffic circle, stopping if necessary until you can safely enter the flow of traffic. Take turns and be kind to other people. You learned those basic rules in kindergarten, and they still apply today – especially when it comes to safely navigating a roundabout!

How Do I Approach a Highway Merge in an Active Construction Zone?

Due to road work (that happens in Michigan sometimes), you may encounter zones where construction requires you to fully stop at the end of a freeway entrance ramp and then wait for traffic to clear before entering the highway. Be sure to observe the law by stopping as required, since injuring or killing anyone in a work zone (whether or not they are members of a road crew) can bring substantial penalties in Michigan – including up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $7,500.

What if Two Lanes Are Merging Together on a Highway?

Once again, pay attention to signage and any orange cones or barrels that have been placed to indicate which lane needs to merge into the other. When you approach the point where the lanes are coming together, the Michigan Department of Transportation encourages drivers to use the “zipper” technique to complete the lane merger. A zipper merge occurs when motorists use both lanes of traffic until reaching the defined merge area, and then alternate in “zipper” fashion into the open lane. Please don’t attempt to prevent people from racing ahead by straddling both lanes of traffic. You could be ticketed for impeding the flow of traffic. The bottom line here: take turns and be nice. Attempting to control other drivers by getting into their space is an invitation to a dangerous road rage incident like this one that happened last summer, which is something we should all try to avoid.

If I’m Injured in a Crash While Merging, What Should I Do Next?

If you were in the traffic lane with a clear right-of-way, and were hurt by someone illegally attempting to force their way into your lane, get in touch with us immediately. We’ll help you receive fair compensation for your injuries, lost wages, medical costs, and related damages. On the other side of the coin, if you were attempting to enter the highway but were injured by someone intentionally slowing down or speeding up to prevent you from safely merging, you should also contact us at your earliest convenience. In either situation, you may have legal grounds for a successful personal injury lawsuit. Don’t forget that you can also speak with someone right away by calling our toll-free hotline – 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946). We’ll be there for you whenever you call – day or night.

How to Properly Merge onto Our State’s Expressways

Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.