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Michigan Left Turn: What Is A Michigan Left?

December 11, 2019 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Left Turn: What You Need To Know | Michigan Auto Law

Ah, the famous “Michigan left.” Also known as a “Michigan left turn,” it is a source of curiosity (and sometimes anxiety) for visitors to the Great Lakes state.

Today, I’m going to talk about why they exist and what drivers need to be thinking about when making them.

What is a Michigan left?

A Michigan left requires a driver to either drive straight or turn right and then, complete a U-turn through a paved and dutifully marked crossover through a median instead of approaching an intersection and just turning left when traffic clears or when a traffic signal allows a driver to do so.

From there, a driver will either proceed straight-away or will be required to make one more right turn to set out on his or her desired direction.

This unique traffic design is a very common feature on Michigan roads. However, it is considerably less common in other states, as visitors to Michigan and sometimes Michigan drivers visiting other states find out (sometimes by a police officer with flashing lights in the background).

What does it actually look like?

Below is an excellent illustration of how drivers use a Michigan left from the Michigan Department of Transportation’s “Using a Michigan Left” brochure:

How do you make a Michigan left?
Image credit: Michigan Department of Transportation

Here is how it works:

  • If a driver is approaching a divided highway from a cross street or cross road and wishes to turn left onto the divided highway (which is depicted by the green line in the image above), then in order to turn left the driver must first turn right onto the divided highway. Next, he or she will drive for a short distance and, then, use the median crossover to make a U-turn. At this point, the driver will be traveling in his or her desired direction.
  • If a driver is traveling on a divided highway and wishes to turn left onto a cross street or cross road (which is depicted by the red line in the image above), then the driver must continue straight and pass the cross street/road. Next, he or she will drive for a short distance and use the median crossover to make a U-turn. After reversing direction via the median crossover, the driver will turn right onto the desired cross street or cross road.

(Source: Michigan Department of Transportation)

What is the benefit of having this traffic design as opposed to a conventional left turn?

Studies have shown that the Michigan left turn results in both safer and quicker travel for drivers.

A North Carolina State University study found that the traffic design results in:

  • An “average of 46 percent fewer reported automobile collisions . . .”
  • An average of “63 percent fewer collisions that result in personal injury.”
  • A 20% “overall reduction in travel time compared to similar intersections that use conventional traffic designs . . .”

(Source: NC State News, “No Left Turn: ‘Superstreet’ Traffic Design Improves Travel Time, Safety”)

Similarly, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) reports:

“On roadways where crossovers and Michigan Lefts have been added, crashes have been reduced 30 to 60 percent overall. The greatest reductions are in rear-end and head-on crashes during left-turns (60 to 90 percent reduction) and right-angle crashes (60 percent reduction). Slight increases are noted for two other crash types. Non-left-turn rear-end crashes increase by approximately 25 percent, and fixed-object crashes increase by approximately 20 percent.”

(Source: Michigan Department of Transportation)

Can I pass or drive around another car?

Generally, no, because most are designed to be single-lane median crossovers. Only if there are specific lane markings and/or signs indicating that a particular Michigan left is double-laned should it be treated as so.

The MDOT explains the single- versus double-lane issue as follows:

“Unless delineated as a multi-lane crossover with pavement markings, a median crossover should be considered a single-lane crossover. While there is often enough physical width in a crossover to turn multiple passenger cars side-by-side, that width is intended to allow large trucks to turn through the crossover – not to allow cars to line up adjacent to each other. Regardless of the physical width, an unmarked median crossover should always be treated as a single-lane crossover.”

It’s important to remember this single- versus double-lane distinction when you’re driving through a Michigan left turn because failure to do so could get you a “civil infraction” ticket for “Improper lane usage” or “Improper passing,” which could result in 2 or 3 points, respectively, being put on your driver’s license. (MCL 257.642(1)(a) and (3); 257.637; 257.638; and 257.320a(1)(r) and (u))

Find out what you need to know about using a Michigan Left by clicking here: https://www.michiganautolaw.com/blog/2019/12/10/michigan-left-turn/

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