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Image credit: Dennis Brekke

The signs are all around us. A warm breeze, chirping birds, budding leaves, and THIS LANE ENDS. For many parts of Canada and the United States, there are only two seasons; winter and road construction. With the latter approaching, we can expect to see lane closures. They happen throughout the year for various reasons, but more so during the summer months when road maintenance and construction crews are in full swing. Then comes the inevitable holier than thou attitude common among drivers who don’t know how to merge.

We’ve all been stuck in a lineup at some point. Often during rush hour when the traffic volume is already higher than normal. You’re patiently waiting, creeping at a snail’s pace while other vehicles cruise by you in the soon to be “closed” lane. The nerve of some people! How dare they? Sound familiar? It’s human nature to think that those people are cutting in. I mean, they must have seen the signs, just as you did. And you merged early to the “open” lane because you’re a responsible driver and now those idiots are just trying to beat everyone else to the front of the line!

Well, not exactly. While it may seem like bad manners, it’s actually the preferred method for merging. It’s called a late merge, or zipper merge and it’s been proven to cause fewer accidents, reduced bottlenecks, less road rage, and more efficient traffic flow.

Though many people were taught to merge at the first sign of an upcoming lane closure, it’s no longer recognized as proper conduct. Early merging is dangerous because with it comes an element of chaos. Unexpected lane changes in an area prone to a high degree of speed differentials leads to road rage and/or serious crashes. No rule exists that says you must merge as soon as possible. Legally, you can (and should) remain in your lane of travel until you are forced to leave it, either by way of physical barrier or a “MERGE” sign. All other signs before that are simply warnings of what’s ahead. The rule is to merge as soon as it’s safe to do so. The safest place is at the actual merge point because traffic is at its slowest, and if people take turns (like teeth in a zipper) each lane change is expected and accommodated.

Now here’s the exception: Imagine travelling at highway speeds and waiting until the last second to merge. Obviously, you’d be putting yourself and possibly others at risk. But just remember to merge as soon as it’s safe to do so. If traffic is light, then merge early and carry on.