Are you a late merger or an early merger? Well, if you answered proudly, “early merger” you’ve been doing it all wrong.
That’s not exactly the kind of thing someone likes to hear when they think they’re a good driver. But, according to departments of transportation all over the country, it’s true. Many states, including Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Washington have implemented aggressive public outreach programs educating motorists to the benefits of the zipper merge.
Merging can be a major source of commuter frustration and road rage- everyone believing they’re doing it the right way and sometimes becoming quite militant when others don’t follow suit. It’s the same scenario every time that merging from multiple lanes becomes necessary- some drivers merge immediately, sometimes even blocking traffic to do so, then there are those drivers that keep going right up to the merging point. Inevitably, there will be at least one vehicle that will work hard to keep this late merger blocked out for as long as possible until another vehicle lets them into traffic.
Well, folks, that late merger who we like to dub public enemy number one has actually been trying to use the correct method all along: zipper merging. And when done properly, by all drivers, it works quite flawlessly. In fact, it can reduce traffic congestion by as much as 40 percent.
When drivers merge too soon, it tends to slow the flow of traffic and causes delays as drivers block one lane waiting to be let into the other. If, however, all vehicles proceed in their lanes right up to the merging point, and then drivers in the moving lane take turns each letting one vehicle over from the merging lane, then traffic can continue to move slowly, yet consistently through the merger zone- just like teeth on a zipper filing in behind one another.
The real trick to making this work, however, is education. Everyone must be made aware of the process and then everyone must be willing to follow the process, otherwise it won’t work at all, and traffic jams and flared tempers ensue.
An expert on driver psychology at Buffalo State, Dwight Hennessy, PhD., understands why zipper merging can be so difficult for most of us. Because zipper merging is dependent on everyone following the rules, when someone drives all the way down the merging lane, we assume they are breaking the rules by trying to get ahead of everyone. In our minds, the rule-breaker should not be rewarded by being let into traffic, and so it begins- the dirty looks, the grumbling, and attempts to block out the rule-breaker.
Educating everyone on the efficiency of zipper merging is paramount, he says, to reconditioning drivers and ending the confusion, congestion, and rage.
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