Let’s talk about who has the right of way when merging in traffic. We could categorize this as part of the seemingly lost art of safely driving in merging traffic.
Judging by the aggressive, “get out of my way” approach that so many drivers seem to embrace when merging onto a highway (or freeway or other busy street), this little “talk” today is much-needed. I’ve been an auto accident attorney for over 25 years, and car accidents caused by aggressive drivers merging into traffic and failing to yield always seems to make up a disproportionately large number of the car crashes that I see every year.
Let me start by clarifying that the proper way to merge does NOT entail the following mentality:
“Get out of my way. Ready or not, here I come!”
Contrary to many people’s erroneous belief on who has the right of way when merging, the drivers who are already on the highway do not have to make way and accommodate a merging driver.
Just the opposite: The merging driver has a legal duty to yield and must be mindful of the other drivers. The merging driver has a duty to safely enter the flow of traffic because the driver who is already on a freeway, highway, or street has the legal right of way.
Who has the right of way when merging onto the freeway in Michigan?
Drivers on the freeway (or highway or street) that a merging driver seeks to enter have the right of way. This means that the driver, when merging, must yield to traffic.
Specifically, Michigan merging traffic laws provide clarification on who has the right of way when merging onto the freeway:
“When a vehicle approaches the intersection of a highway from an intersecting highway or street that is intended to be, and is constructed as, a merging highway or street, and is plainly marked at the intersection with appropriate merge signs, the vehicle shall yield right of way to a vehicle so close as to constitute an immediate hazard on the highway about to be entered and shall adjust its speed so as to enable it to merge safely with the through traffic.” (MCL 257.649(9))
Is it illegal to not let someone merge in Michigan?
If for whatever reason a driver with the right of way intentionally blocks or prevents the merging driver from entering the roadway, then he or she could likely be ticketed for reckless driving (MCL 257.626(2)) or impeding traffic (MCL 257.676b(1)).
Here is what the Michigan State Police instructs on its “Traffic Laws FAQs” page:
- When merging onto the freeway, the driver merging “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.”
Importantly, a driver who is speeding (i.e., “traveling at an unlawful speed”) “forfeits” his or her right of way. (MCL 257.649(7))
Ultimately, if everyone is following the Michigan merging traffic laws, then this should not be an issue because proper merging requires the merging driver to yield the right of way to drivers who are already on the road, not the other way around.
Who has the right of way when two lanes merge into one in Michigan?
When approaching a roadway from “a merging highway or street” and there are “appropriate merge signs” present, then the merging driver must yield the right of way to the drivers on the street he or she intends to merge onto.
Merging in traffic accident statistics
In 2021, there were 43,048 motor vehicles involved in car accidents involving drivers’ failure to yield. (Source: Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, 2016 and 2021, Vehicle/Driver, “Driver Hazardous Action,” “Failed to yield”)
This was a notable decrease from five years earlier in 2016 when the total number of vehicles involved in “failed to yield” crashes was 46,694.
Unfortunately, Michigan Traffic Crash Facts does not keep crash statistics specifically about accidents related to merging in traffic.
What are the penalties for violating Michigan merging in traffic laws?
If you fail to properly yield the right of way when merging, then you could be ticketed for “failure to yield,” which is a “civil infraction.” (MCL 257.649(10))
However, you could also get 2 points on your driver’s license for this violation of the merging traffic laws. (MCL 257.320a(1)(u))
Have you been in a car accident while merging in traffic?
If you have been in a merging in traffic related accident and you still have questions regarding “who has the right of way when merging” and/or if you have any other questions regarding your car accident rights then contact a Michigan car accident lawyer at Michigan Auto Law.
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