Do you merge correctly, or are you making traffic worse?

Officials say there is such a thing as being 'too nice'

Stock image/Pexels
Stock image/Pexels

Let’s talk about merging: Are you doing it correctly?

In this case, we're referring to merging when a driver is behind the wheel, or what happens when two vehicles blend into a single lane of traffic.

One spot where this gets tricky is near a construction zone, where one lane is about to end.

How do you react?

Drivers who get mad when other motorists wait until the last possible moment to merge, need to reconsider their long-held notions of highway courtesy, transportation officials in a growing number of states have said.

There are three distinctly different driving strategies involved here.

You have the "early merger," who wants to be polite and abandons that lane a mile or two away from the closure.

You have the "zoomer," who stays in that lane, which is emptying fast. He or she drives all the way to the closure and then tries to merge.

And you have the "oh no you won't" driver, who attempts to block the zoomer.




So, who's correct?

Traffic engineers say the driver who stays in the closing lane until near the end is the person doing it right.

In moderate to heavy traffic, the drivers who stay in that lane until near the end will actually help ease congestion, engineer Chris Brookes said in a previous Channel 2 report.

“In a high-volume situation, when the queue is building up, you want to use the capacity of that roadway, so you do want everyone in both lanes, and you want everyone to take turns,” Brookes said.

When it comes to this “zipper-merging,” as it's called, Brookes said drivers should fill both lanes and then take turns merging; then some delays could be eliminated completely.

"If you're traveling 30 (or) 45 miles per hour, when you get to that closure point, you start taking turns slowing down and then everyone comes together just like a zipper, and it works,” Brookes said.

The key to success in zipper merging is that everyone has to work from the same playbook. Think of it like a ballroom dance: the traffic tango.

“If everyone was doing it, and everyone was taking turns, then it functions properly," Brookes said. "Everyone on the roadway wants to get where they’re going. If we all cooperate and respect each other and drive safely, we would all get there faster."

States endorse the zipper merge -- tell your friends!

Traffic officials in Texas wrote a blog about the zipper merge, citing a study that revealed it can cut backups in half.

Other states that have come out in support of the zipper merge include Colorado, Kansas, Washington, Minnesota and Missouri.

The idea is simple: If you merge 100 feet too early, you’re forcing traffic to back up farther, and there’s 100 feet of free highway space that could be filled with cars.

Otherwise, you're in danger of causing a crash. If you merge too soon, other drivers might not realize you’re merging, and run into your bumper.

The difference in pace matters, as well. Cars in the closed lane are typically driving fast to get up front, while the other lane is moving along slowly. This can be dangerous.

No more Mr. Nice Guy

In a 2016 report, the Associated Press said the goal was to change a mindset among drivers whose first instinct is to get in line as soon as they see a sign warning of closed lanes ahead. For those folks, drivers who buzz past in the lane that is ending and crowd back into line at the last second are considered rude or inconsiderate.

Midwesterners in particular tend to be polite and follow the rules — even unwritten ones — and get upset when others don’t, said Dwight Hennessy, a psychology professor at Buffalo State College in New York, who specializes in traffic psychology.

“When a rule is being violated by someone else, it frustrates us, it irritates us, it makes us angry,” Hennessy told the AP. “We expect everyone else to follow the rules, and when they don’t and we know they’re getting an advantage, it ticks us off.”

Missouri ran what was essentially a public relations campaign to change how drivers dealt with lane closures and merging.

In fact, the AP said, zipper merging is a simple concept that kids seem to understand better than some adult drivers. That point is made in the video above, featuring children reacting to footage of adults using cardboard cars to make a zipper merge.

So, now that we've reviewed the specifics, tell us in the comments: Will this information change the way you merge?

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author: