Fun Facts, Puzzles & Brain Teasers

Those Drivers Who Merge At The Last Second? They’re Right

If you're a "polite" merger, you're making traffic worse.

There are four words you never want to see printed on that bright orange sign along the highway:

“Left (or Right) Lane Closed Ahead.”

In most driver’s education classes, we’re taught to be polite and get out of the closed lane as early as possible.

That works fine and is all well and good when there aren’t many cars on the highway and you can merge whenever you feel like it.

lane ends merge photo
Flickr | Elliott Plack

But most urban highways are so congested that hurried drivers would love nothing more than to keep traffic flowing. In these conditions, do you merge right away and get it over with, or do you stay in your lane and wait until the last second to merge?

traffic photo
Getty Images | Barry Williams

When To Merge?

Merging early is like waiting in line at the deli—you wait your turn to go through the construction zone like everyone else. But merging late feels like you’re cutting the line and making life unfair for the rest of the drivers. Also, no one likes getting the one-finger salute from other drivers.

School just got out... stuck again.
Flickr | pscf11

According to multiple studies though, it turns out you’re supposed to make other drivers mad (though if everyone knew about said studies, perhaps they wouldn’t be so mad).

highway photo
Getty Images | Sean Gallup

Let’s say you merge 100 feet too early. That means you’re forcing traffic to back up farther, and there’s 100 feet of free highway space that could be filled with cars.

traffic photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson

What’s worse: You’re more likely to cause an accident. If you merge early, other cars might not realize you’re merging and run into your bumper.

Cars in the closed lane are driving fast to get up front, while the other lane is slowly moving along like a turtle. These variations in pace can cause more accidents.

traffic photo
Getty Images | Scott Olson

Staying in your lane and moving over at the last second is called the “zipper method,” and it’s the most efficient method of merging.

From above, it looks like a zipper being zipped up, since every other car takes their turn through the open lane. Studies say this can reduce congestion by 40 percent while also causing fewer accidents since every car is going the same speed.