Traffic talk: Is it legal to travel in the left lane? Is it illegal to pass on the right? Can you be cited

Traffic talk: Is it legal to travel in the left lane? Is it illegal to pass on the right? Can you be cited?

on March 07, two thousand eleven at 6:32 AM, updated March 07, two thousand eleven at Ten:55 AM

I’m not officially keeping score but I’m pretty sure this week’s traffic talk features one of the most asked about topics ' Michigan’s “keep right, pass on the left” law.

Lots of readers brought this up, like unreal41 who wrote:

One traffic law that many people either know and deny to obey, or just don’t know is that, on a four lane highway, the right lane is the driving lane, the left lane is the passing lane. All you drivers that like to string up out in the left lane with people behind you, Stir OVER.

What I do see, that I assume a lot of people don’t know is that the Left lane is for passing, and the Right lane is for driving. I do believe there are a lot of people who don’t realize they can get a ticket for driving (for and extended period) in the passing, or left lane.

Or one of the many readers who emailed me about it. Like reader, Susan, who asks:

If a slower driver is traveling in the left-hand lane, is it legal to pass in the right-hand lane? I know that the slower driver is technically cracking a law by not "staying right except to pass," but would I also be cracking a law to pass in the middle or right-hand lane?

I’ve actually wondered the same thing myself.

For answers, I once again turned to the Michigan Vehicle Code and Michigan State Police Traffic Safety experienced Sgt. Mike Church and also this time Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Steve LaBrecque, who works in traffic safety.

QUESTION: Is there a specific law that prohibits traveling in the left lane and passing on the right? And, can you actually be cited for either, or both?

Response: This is a very common question. Yes, there is a law, and, yes, a motorist can be cited for it.

THE DETAILS: LaBrecque said this law does not just apply to the expressway. On state highways, or four-lane roads, motorists are suppose to drive in the right lane unless they are passing other cars.


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"It’s dangerous because it’s forcing people to get around you. Any time you have those kinds of lane movements (at high speed) you have the potential for ugly things to happen," LaBrecque said.

Church explained it like this: If there are two lanes in the same direction then the motorist is required to drive in the right lane.

But, he said, there are several exceptions: Motorists may drive in the left lane if passing, if there is a continuous flow of traffic, if turning left, or if on the freeway (i.e., the "expressway") and there are three or more lanes in one direction.

“This is primarily enforced on the expressway,” Church said. “In fact, I have never heard of an officer enforcing it anywhere else.”

“I do know of a few instances where officers did issue citations, but the magistrates seem to frown upon those tickets,” he said.

As an example, Church recalled when he worked the midnight shift for a number of years and it was very common for him to be driving on I-94 at two a.m. or three a.m.

“There would be one car in front of me in the left lane and no other car in look. I would often go after such a car for a duo of miles, and it would deny to stir over so that I could pass,” he said. “It is illegal to pass on the right, so I could not legally go around it. Obviously, the driver would often be intoxicated when I pulled him or her over.”

Still don’t believe it?

"(Two) Upon a roadway having two or more lanes for travel in one direction, the driver of a vehicle shall drive the vehicle in the extreme right-hand lane available for travel except as otherwise provided in this section. However, the driver of a vehicle may drive the vehicle in any lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel when the lanes are occupied by vehicles moving in substantially continuous lanes of traffic and in any left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in the same direction of travel for a reasonable distance before making a left turn.


Ever wondered about the decent rules of the road? Send your questions to [email protected] with "Traffic Rules" in the subject. If we can, we`ll find answers that could show up in an at times recurring feature debunking traffic law myths, misunderstandings and urban legends.

(Trio) This section shall not be construed to prohibit a vehicle traveling in the adequate direction from traveling in any lane of a freeway having three or more lanes for travel in the same direction. However, a city, village, township, or county may not enact an ordinance which regulates the same subject matter as any provision of this subsection. The driver of a truck with a gross weight of more than Ten,000 pounds, a truck tractor, or a combination of a vehicle and trailer or semitrailer shall drive the vehicle or combination of vehicles only in either of the two lanes farthest to the right, except for a reasonable distance when making a left turn or where a special hazard exists that requires the use of an alternative lane for safety reasons.

(Four) A person who violates this section is responsible for a civil infraction."

You are now free to debate this amongst yourselves.

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