How Close is Too Close While Driving; Roundabout Rules and Right-of-Ways

Sgt. Mark Thompson of the Michigan State Police discusses safe following distances and roundabouts.

I was going to comment about the wonderful early spring we are having, the arrival of the sandhill cranes, herons and starlings. Then Friday’s snow storm happened and I think I’ll just wait a few more weeks before I get geared up for 'spring.' Hope your Friday drive into work went well.

Livingston County resident Kifton Dillow would like me to write about safe following distances and right-of-way in roundabouts.

Let’s tackle the safe following distance. MCL 257.643 specifically covers following too close. MCL257.643(1) states, “The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the highway.”

The website www.smartmotorist.com suggests using the "three second rule.” To use the three second rule while driving, the driver would pick a fixed object such as a sign or tree. The driver would then wait for the vehicle they are following to pass the object and then count to three. If you get to the object before you get to three, you’re following too close.

The website also gives traveling distances at various speeds. A vehicle will travel 37 feet per second at 25 miles per hour, or 111 feet in three seconds. At 55 miles per hour, a vehicle will travel 81 feet per second or 243 feet in three seconds. There is no denying the more time a driver has to react, the more options the driver has to avoid a crash.

Roundabout rules

When roundabouts first began appearing, we had hundreds of calls from drivers regarding the appropriate driving response when using the roundabout.

I believe the calls were generated because, at the time, the roundabouts were becoming more prevalent and drivers were not use to using them. That being said, roundabouts are a safe and more efficient alternative to the standard stop and go intersection, but drivers have to pay attention when using them.

Prior to a driver entering a roundabout there will be a yield sign. The driver entering a roundabout must yield to traffic already in the roundabout, or those already driving in the circle. Traffic in the roundabout will always travel in a counter-clockwise direction, or to the right.

MCL 257.649, particularly section (4), covers right of way rules and when to yield. MCL 257.649(4) states, “The driver of a vehicle approaching a yield sign, in obedience to the sign, shall slow down to a speed reasonable for the existing conditions and shall yield the right of way to a vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the driver would be moving across or within the intersection. However, if required for safety to stop, the driver shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if
there is not a crosswalk, at a clearly marked stop line; but if there is not a crosswalk or a clearly marked stop line, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway.”

Some additional information drivers may find useful: MCL 257.649(5) states, “The driver of a vehicle traveling at an unlawful speed shall forfeit a right of way which the driver might otherwise have under this section.”

I am particularly aware of roundabouts as I had a life altering experience while traveling with my son, Jason, when he was learning how to drive.

Jason had never experienced a roundabout but was doing a fine job driving. He  approached the roundabout and yielded to traffic appropriately. While we were waiting for traffic to clear, I advised Jason we needed to go to the mall, and I pointed to the left. Jason being the good son that he is, began to turn left into the roundabout, which would be the wrong way. I am told, but cannot confirm, that Jason’s dad (me) can produce high pitched sounds when faced with the prospect of going the wrong way on a one way road.

Jason was able to correct his turn and proceed in the correct manner while his father composed himself. I don’t know why, but I no longer point when giving directions …

If you have a question, please send it to askatrooper12@gmail.com or mail it to the Michigan State Police – Brighton Post, 4803 S. Old US-23, Brighton, MI 48114.

Editor's Note: This article has been changed to correctly state that counter-clockwise is the direction traveled in a round-about.

Old Engineer February 24, 2012 at 08:14 PM
" Traffic in the roundabout will always travel in a clockwise direction, or to the right." That's what you said in an article published today. Well, which is it? Turning to the right is to go COUNTERCLOCKWISE around the circle or roundabout, as we do in North America. In Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and other areas where the law and custom is to drive on the left side of the road, one yields to traffic from the right and proceeds to the left, clockwise, around the roundabout. In Michigan, we travel counterclockwise at roundabouts, do we not?
Joe Kleiner February 25, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Regarding the 'following rules', thank you for the URL to "smartmotorist"; the additional 'links' listed there are well-worth investigating. "Following" rules are one thing, but I have yet to read about the 'in front' situation. 'Intimidation' is the operative word that applies when being 'tail-gated'. The leading driver has little or no maneuvering time, like slowing/braking when coming upon slower traffic or obstructions in the road. Many drivers fail to realize that allowing space ahead of them also allows the use of 'off the accelerator', instead of 'on the brake' to avoid ramming the car in front. Try that technique when following traffic; it works.
Angela May 13, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Actually, since we're making corrections here, most of Europe drives on the right like we do. The U.K. is the notable exception.


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