I Guess I’ve Been Merging Incorrectly All These Years

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



64 thoughts on “I Guess I’ve Been Merging Incorrectly All These Years

  1. So don’t get caught merging with your zipper down. Did the idiots who’ve made the zipper merge laws think about how enforcement would work? What cop would pull someone over in the middle of a traffic jam, where there’s little or no road shoulder? That would just make matters worse for everyone. And that’s assuming the cop could get to the zipper merger violator, through the ruck of traffic.

    Anyway, I agree with the respondent who worries about fools carrying pistols. Road rage is a real thing, and waiting until the last minute to merge can lead to lots of trouble. To hell with the law, I’m going to stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was once a passenger in a car, when the driver went off on a road rage fit. It was pretty scary. We could have all been killed, in his quest to exact revenge on the guy who cut him off.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, zipper merge definitely requires cooperation. For this reason, I also leave the lane about to close as soon as I can in such situations. Ha ha 🙂 Maybe where changing lanes early allows me to focus on the traffic ahead, where I have a panoramic view. While in zipper merging I’ll have to use my peripheral vision. I guess instinctively I use the one I’m more comfortable with.

    I see, now, how a zipper merge will ease the traffic flow. Might work in early traffic hour, not sure about the madness of homecoming traffic time.

    I liked the video, but that’s an ideal computer animation. Sigh.
    A great post 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. thanks, Pat! I’m with you, the zipper merge would only seem to work under ideal conditions where there will be 100% cooperation. SInce that is highly unlikely, I’ll probably continue my current way of merging 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s really interesting, Jim. I hadn’t heard of the zipper merge before but the way the video explains it, it definitely makes sense. Everybody has to know about it and do it though. I have always handled these lane closures the way you describe – entering the lane remaining open as soon as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reminds me of the days when I would drive to work through the Blackwall Tunnel, where there was always a three-lane queue in the morning rush hour. From time to time one of the southbound traffic lanes would close to allow an extra lane for the heavier traffic heading into the city, and two southbound outside lanes would have to merge. I learned to leave my merge until the last minute, but there was always bozos who wouldn’t let anyone in – probably those who had merged earlier. Occasionally, a lorry might position itself across both lanes, hence securing its place in the middle lane while stopping any more outside lane streakers jumping the queue.
    This contraflow wasted a lot of driving time when idiot drivers began ignoring the signs thinking they would have time to get through before the traffic started coming towards them. This was partly because it was taking so long before the lane was opened to traffic on the other side (to ovoid collisions by idiot drivers chancing their luck). So the practice of contra-flow was stopped.
    I’ve since learned a lot while travelling with my present husband, a former class 1 Met police driver – and not just about vocabulary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. seems like you intuitively knew about the zipper merge, but then there were bozos like me who fouled things up!

      I can see the contraflow being a problem, and it seems a good thing that it was stopped.

      I’m sure your husband has lots of good stories…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, consider me educated on the fine art of merging. I, like you Jim, merge as soon as possible. But I get the theory behind the “zipper” merge and all its benefits. The stumbling block here is we are asking all drivers to work together to the benefit of all. I think our current issue with vaccinations sheds some light on why this may not work as well as the experts have hoped. We are just not great at thinking of others anymore!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes, the coopeation aspect would seem to be the biggest obstacle to the successful use of the zipper merge. I would also guess that motorcyclists have their own set of issues with aggressive drivers…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the zipper approach- I’ve observed commuting pedestrians use this approach when two exit points merge into one through a train station door.

    Best approach is learning about the zipper on testing, difficult part is teaching this way to established drivers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. as a long time commuter, i’m a happy zipper-er. it has always made more sense to me, but the challenge is that not everyone is on the same page, so it’s an ongoing challenge for all –

    Liked by 2 people

    1. you are a trailblazer! it seems to be a great idea on theory, but it may be hard to put fully into practice. seems to require q00% cooperation among drivers, which seems unlikely…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have seen some success with zipper merges where the same commuters make the same merge every single day. Zipper merges are a mess for unique merges due to construction or accident because everyone is not on the same page. But it is crazy trying to get everyone lined up in one single line too early.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree that this would probably clear up the daily congestion during rush hour but I think where this method might go wrong is when ppl who were originally in the non-closing lane move to the closing lane just to bud and get ahead of the line. I have no problem letting ppl in who were originally in the closing lane but as soon as I see someone maneuver from the non-closing lane to the closing lane just to get ahead it infuriates me… Most of the time I try to give every driver the benefit of the doubt though…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I always merge at the end and I often receive the finger, or a horn or even people trying to cut me off. My response, although only in my head, …learn to drive people! To me it is just common sense. One merge point over several. I don’t know if it is in the driver’s handbook, but it should be.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’ve known about the zipper merge for years. I used to drive through New Jersey a lot and they often had those ‘stay in lane until merge point’ signs. I once tried to explain the benefits of it to my father and brother in law once using salt and pepper shakers as cars. They looked at me as though I was an anarchist. I think it’s too late to do anything about it. If the government ever tried to mandate it, side would be chosen along political lines. I just merge early with everyone else, but I don’t get bent out of shape by the zippers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. you were ahead of your time. and sadly, you are probably right. this could somehow become a political issue…

      I guess I need to be more tolerant of zippers as well…


  12. Laws like that don’t work in the Chicago area. Maybe once in awhile someone will let you in but really, you do what you have to, when you can, because no one KNOWS the laws and even if they did, no one cares.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s funny how our driving habits are established. The Zipper Lane sounds good in principle, but I have a feeling that too many drivers would either ignore or take advantage of defensive drivers. My reaction to those who clearly see the traffic is merging and yet try to pass most of the group before moving over is the same as yours. At the same time, I’m one of those drivers who usually wave in those cars that are stuck pulling out into traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am the same way, I don’t mind letting in others who aren’t being aggressive about trying to merge. But maybe I’ll give this zipper thing a try a few times and see if it works…

      Liked by 1 person

  14. The zipper merge looks great. Sadly, I highly doubt most people would have the sense to use it. I don’t know about you, but in Toronto everytime I get in my car I see another astounding embecile on the road. Merging is horrendous here. Yes, I’ll get in the driving lane early, and all the chumpsters who pull up along and squeeze in, drive me mad. I let people in all the time but when they are ignorant, I’ll keep my front bumper a hairline away from the car in front. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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