If I am driving on a four-lane highway (two lanes in each direction), and I see a sign that indicates that the left or right lane is closed ahead, I generally try and get out of the lane that is going to be closed as soon as possible, or if I am already in the lane that will remain open, I am happy to let cars in ahead of me that have the same thought.
What really annoys me is to see cars zipping past me using the lane that is going to be closed, and then trying to squeeze in at the last moment. I’ll admit it; I try to block such drivers from cutting in front of me at the last minute. In my mind, I already let one car in ahead of me, several cars back, and that should be the limit, each car taking a turn.
According to research by the Texas Transportation Institute, .these types of merging difficulties account for over half of major auto-related causes of stress, which is a leading cause of road rage. According to the American Psychological Association, 30 killings annually are linked to road rage.
Well, now it looks like I may have been thinking about merging the wrong way.
Today I read about something known as the zipper merge. Here is a short video that explains it pretty well:
The basic idea is that in such situations, the people in the lane that is about to be closed should wait until the last possible moment to switch to the open lane. At that point, drivers should take turns getting past that point, by letting one car at a time from each lane merge together, much like the way a zipper works. Doing so increases the flow of traffic, and thus works better for all drivers on the road.
Such a merge would seem to break down if somebody tried to merge too early, or if someone in the open lane didn’t want to let someone in, thus creating a blockage in the lane that is about to be closed. The key is to keep the traffic moving, and use both lanes for as long as possible.
But there is data to support the zipper merge.
I would be fine with this, but it requires a high degree of cooperation and education, and that’s what some states are trying to encourage their drivers to do.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation cites four benefits: It reduces differences in speeds between the two lanes, shortens traffic backups by as much as 40 percent, eases congestion at interchanges and creates a sense that lanes are moving more equitably. The Texas Transportation Institute found that a zipper merge strategy delayed the onset of congestion at the merge point by about 14 minutes and cut the maximum line of cars by 1,800 feet.
As a result, some states are trying to mandate the use of the zipper merge.
In 2020, Illinois mandated that its Rules of the Road handbook include the zipper merge. Violators who impede others from merging are subject to a fine. The North Carolina House passed a bill that would mandate the zipper merge when lanes merged into one. The bill, which has yet to pass the Senate, would also require that driver’s license and driver education handbooks include the zipper merge.
Road signs may be helpful as well.
The Colorado Department of Transportation found that drivers merged correctly before construction sites only when a number of informational signs were put up both well before the work area and at the merge point. One read, “Use Both Lanes to Merge Point.”
But despite best efforts, some people may still disagree with eh idea of the zipper merge.
Lance Aldrich, a Michigan writer who has railed against those who refuse to get in line early, highlights the importance of education: “Americans are fiercely protective of their property rights. They see someone who slides in at the last moment as a trespasser trying to steal something that is rightfully theirs. Perhaps if the zipper method were taught from a very early age and shown to be for the common good it might work. But otherwise don’t even think about squeezing in ahead of me.”
Paul Stenquist, a reporter for the New York Times, posted a description of the zipper merge in a Facebook auto enthusiast group, along with the video shown above, and asked for public comments. Many said they would move into the through lane as soon as possible and were angered when others sped along until the last moment. Some vowed that they would run off the road anyone who took this route. One respondent said the best argument against the zipper merge in the United States was that too many dangerous fools carried pistols and were willing to use them.
For me, the zipper merge seems to make sense, and I would gladly use it if I knew everyone else on the road was also going to use it as well.
It’s fun to learn something new that makes me question my long-held assumptions and behaviors, and the zipper merge falls into that category.
Source: New York Times
*image from AMA Insider