Healthy Living
Opinion

Drivers Who Merge at the Last Minute May Be Annoying… But They’re Right

zipper merging
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I wouldn’t say I have road rage. I mean, sure, occasionally I’ll let out a snarky comment if the car in front of me decides he’s too good to use a turn signal. But I’m not the type of person who will slam on my horn, shout profanities out my window, or tailgate a car for a mile or two out of spite. I’ll tell you what though if there is one thing that really gets my blood boiling, it’s merging in construction zones.

Merging In Construction Zones – The Right Way

I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re driving along, minding your own business, when you start to see those orange cones. Pretty soon the signs starting popping up: “LANE CLOSED IN 1000 FT” and “LANE ENDS MERGE RIGHT”. So, like the good, obedient citizen you are, you kindly merge into the right lane ahead as soon as you see the sign only to find the car behind you speeding past and merging at the last minute.

But as much as you want to throw a sludge hammer through his windshield, that annoying driver is actually right. Trust me, I didn’t believe it at first either, but just hear me out. The best way to handle merging in construction zones is by merging “late”. This is also referred to as the zipper merge.

Zipper Merging In Construction Zones

Zipper merging is when each car stays in their lane until the last moment when the lane actually ends. Then the merging process is handled by taking turns, one car from the right lane, one car from the left lane, and so on. From above it looks like the teeth of a zipper coming together, hence the name.

The reason late merging in construction zones makes drivers so mad is that we think of traffic lanes like drinking fountain lines. We all learned in grade school that it’s not okay to skip to the front of the line for a drink, even if there’s a gap or your buddy saves you a spot. You go to the back of the line and patiently wait your turn. While zipper merging might seem like it’s taking longer for everyone, it can actually speed the process up considerably.

Why Zipper Merging Works

Studies show that zipper merging makes construction zones safer and more effective, especially during rush hours when the roads are more congested. Cars are able to use all the available space as long as possible. Alternatively, they drag out the stoppage for much longer than needed and cause congestion further down the line. It also allows cars more time to continue at regular speed, rather than having one lane speeding along and the other at a stop and go. (1)

Several states have attempted to promote zipper merging methods, and all have seen positive results. The Kentucky Transportation Center found that zipper merging in construction zones reduced backups, improved traffic flow, and minimized how much of the area was impacted by the construction zone. The Colorado Department of Transportation actually discovered that traffic lines were 50 percent shorter, and 15 percent more cars were able to move through the work zone when using zipper merging. The Minnesota Department of Transportation also found zipper merging to be a safer alternative. (2, 3, 4, 5)

Make Construction Zones a Good Experience

I completely understand if zipper merging in construction zones makes you angry. The grade school child in me wants to throw a tantrum right in the middle of the road. But in the long run, zipper merging is safer, faster, and more efficient than any other merging methods, especially when everyone plays along nicely. So spread the word, educate other drivers you know, and start using the zipper method in order to make construction zones a better experience for everyone.

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Emilyn Gil

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