Merging into a lane of traffic can be frustrating and dangerous for drivers. Quick decision-making, timing, trust, and a little bit of courage all play significant roles in a successful merge. Unfortunately, not everyone merges with caution and, as a result, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that over 500,000 lane-change related crashes occur each year. So, what makes this essential driving maneuver difficult for so many drivers?
Know Your Options for Merging Safely
Although improper merging can cause road rage and serious accidents, there are no specific traffic laws stating the “correct” way to merge. However, even though there isn’t a law telling you how to merge, if your merging technique causes an accident, you are still liable under Virginia traffic laws.
Impatience and frustration over traffic buildups and the all-to-frequent pushy driver result in many drivers being forced to merge late, cut other drivers off, ride the lane, and a host of other actions which could potentially cause a serious accident. However, if drivers take the time to learn their options for merging, the majority of these accidents can be avoided.
Safe and Appropriate Merging Techniques
When entering a highway or encountering a closed lane in a construction zone, make use of one of the following safe merging techniques:
- The immediate merge. Generally considered the safest and most polite merge, this maneuver requires you to slow down and start to look for an opening as soon as you realize your lane ends. This means that as soon as you get on an on-ramp you slow down or speed up to find an opening and merge into it—you don’t just follow the merge line and hope someone will let you in when your lane ends. It can also be used as soon as you see a “lane ending” sign. Don’t wait until you’re forced to move over. Merge as soon as possible to avoid frustration.
- Early merge. An early merge is similar to an immediate merge as you take the opportunity to merge as quickly as possible. However, instead of reducing your speed in order to merge into an opening, you maintain your speed and wait for the opportunity to merge. As soon as you realize you need to merge, turn your signal on in order to let other drivers to know you wish to move over.
- Late or “zipper merge.” The zipper merge is a controversial merge technique because it is often perceived as “cutting” the line of traffic. In a zipper merger, drivers continue in the lane up until the point where it ends. Then drivers must take turns with the ongoing lane’s traffic to merge in. As with the teeth of a zipper, a car from one lane must be allowed in for every car already in the lane. Unfortunately, drivers in the ongoing lane often resist allowing the mergers in or the mergers aggressively force their way in, causing road rage and accidents.
Ultimately, drivers must drive with courtesy and cooperation to keep our highways safe, especially in merging situations. Knowing your options and practicing patience will keep you and your passengers safe.