WILMINGTON — Whether it’s part of a road’s design or due to construction, merging is one of the chief causes of severe traffic. The process is aggravating, but could drivers’ attempt to merge “fairly” actually be making things worse?
Observe most merging scenarios, and drivers quickly move into the unclosed lane. Sometimes this happens a full mile or two before the actual lane closure, causing a traffic jam for much longer than necessary.
For drivers who have already merged, watching other vehicles continue ahead of them down the now-empty lane can prompt anger. These vehicles, which travel up to the point of the merge before “cutting in,” are seen as cheating.
But as it turns out, these drivers are probably doing it correctly.
“The ‘zipper merge’ encourages drivers faced with lane closures to work together and take turns where the lanes merge, not only to reduce congestion for all vehicles, but also to improve safety,” Kevin Lacy, state traffic engineer said in an NCDOT press release.
The zipper merge involves vehicles traveling in all available lanes until it is absolutely necessary to merge; vehicles from each merging lane then take alternating turns, coming together into a single lane like the teeth of a zipper.
“While this goes against the grain of what we like to do as drivers, the zipper merge allows both lanes to be used to their full capacity. With a little extra courtesy, we could greatly reduce the length of traffic jams, decrease travel times and increase safety,” he concluded.
Video: Drivers continue to believe that merging as soon as possible is the best course of action, and that drivers who ‘cut in’ at the last moment are cheating. But merging as late as possible is actually the most effective, and safest, way to merge. (Courtesy Alberta Motor Association)
According to Wilmington Police Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Dandron, safety should always come first when it comes to merging.
“Regarding lane merging: the driver changing lanes is required to do so safely. There is no definition on where it should be made prior to the merging lane closing, so long as it is done safely and prior to the lane ending. The key to remember is that safety needs to be the primary consideration, not convenience. Traffic conditions constantly change throughout the day so what works at one spot at a particular time and particular conditions may not work at another location or time under different conditions,” she said.
Of course, it can be frustrating if drivers feel like they are obeying the rules by getting into the slower lane while other drivers pass them. However, attempting to block other drivers choosing to use the length of the lane is not allowed.
“During congested periods, NCDOT urges drivers in the merge area to be extra courteous to other drivers and understand that those in the closing lane are not simply trying to ‘cut in line’ in front of drivers in the open lane,” according to NCDOT.
Dandron suggests slower drivers remain in the right lane whenever possible, but admits that is a rarity in Wilmington.
“Ideally, slower traffic should keep right in multiple same direction lanes. Realistically, this seldom occurs in Wilmington and is currently unenforceable unless someone is impeding the flow of traffic. If someone lawfully and safely changes lanes and goes at or reasonably below the speed limit, there is no crime,” she said.
“If a driver is intentionally and continuously changing lanes to block another driver’s path, this is likely to turn into a ‘road rage’ incident and police need to notified so that we can address the situation. Regardless, no one is allowed to go over the posted speed limit, so if another driver is in front of someone and is going the speed limit, good for them. Now everyone behind that driver is also,” she said.
Send comments and tips to Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org