Anytime there isn’t snow on the ground is road construction season in Connecticut. That means delays, alternate routes and lane closures. Here’s a question you may have never thought about: What is the proper way to merge when a lane closure reduces two lanes down to just one? If you’re in the lane that’s closing down, should you merge as soon as possible or wait until the last possible moment? Does it matter for reasons other than courtesy?
As it turns out, there is a “right” way to merge – at least from a traffic efficiency standpoint. Professionals who study traffic patterns recommend what’s known as the “zipper merge.” Rather than moving over early and creating a long line of cars in a single lane, these professionals say it is better to keep using the closing lane as long as possible and merge at the last moment. This is reportedly better for traffic flow and is actually safer than merging early. So why do people resist the zipper merge?
The late merge feels rude and irresponsible
You see that a merge is coming up and you think the safe and courteous action is to plan ahead and merge early. It feels like those who merge late are either not paying attention or just don’t think the rules apply to them. They may even want the feeling of control that comes with passing as many cars as possible before merging.
If you are an early merger, you no doubt have good, pro-social intentions. But according to the research, the zipper merge is actually more efficient and will get everyone to where they are going more quickly.
The zipper merge sometimes feels unsafe
Merging at the last moment feels dangerous because it seems like you’re driving into a bottleneck. Also, what if no one lets you in? You don’t want to crash into those cones. While it seems counterintuitive, the zipper merge may be safer because there is one obvious point where everyone is merging. Therefore, if both lanes slow down and take turns merging, no one is surprised by someone cutting them off.
When people merge early, there is a higher likelihood that the merging drivers will feel the need to aggressively change lanes. That increases the risk of a rear-end accident in the through lane.
Sometimes, it’s better to ignore intuition and listen to the research
If you’ve avoided the zipper merge up until now because it seems rude and dangerous, it might be time to retrain that particular driving instinct. As always, please be safe and drive defensively in all situations. But when moving over for construction season in Connecticut, you don’t need to feel guilty about staying in the “fast lane” a little longer.