You may have the common misconception that when you see a lane ending, the right thing to do is immediately get out of that lane. In some instances this may be true, but when traffic begins to build, merging early and leaving a long empty lane is the wrong move.
Yes, when you’re waiting in traffic and see cars going by in the lane that soon ends, cursing them for their “inconsiderate” hurry, you’re actually the one who’s doing it wrong. This may sound far fetched but allow us a chance to explain.
When you should merge early
First off, when you should merge early: When traffic has not begun to build up, the safe option is go ahead and merge once you see the lane closure approaching.
Here’s a diagram of what we see with construction zone lane closures on a regular basis.
The closure lane is empty except a few cars making the trek up to the merge point. Meanwhile, traffic is backed up 14 car lengths in the thru lane. Ever wonder what effect this traffic backup has on other traffic?
Look at the blue and white cars. They cannot pull out due to the excess traffic.
Often times the excess traffic also causes issues at intersections. Notice the pink cars? This could also easily create an accident.
Let’s have a look at the same amount of traffic in a perfect world scenario. (Also how it’s done in most other developed nations).
How to properly treat lane closures
Here you can see traffic is only built up eight car lengths. The two lanes are using a proper “zipper effect” where every other car merges in.
Now that traffic is not backed up, the blue and white cars can proceed along their route without having to wait in unnecessary traffic. The purple cars are also free of excess danger and delays.
Why do we do this?
So then, why do we keep doing this and how has it become so backwards? For one, merging into traffic isn’t easy, and everyone seems to think the guy driving down the open lane to the merge point is the “jerk”. We seem to care so much about what people think about us we sometimes fail to think about the effect our actions may have on others.
Picture this: Imagine that blue car is driven by a single mother, Robyn who works two jobs and is on her way to custody hearing which she arrives late to because of the traffic. Now, who’s inconsiderate? The green cars? We think not.
Stop worrying about what people think and start driving with real consideration in mind.
Notice the green cars near the back of the line now? They will not be able to “cut the line” if everyone is driving and merging properly. In the meantime while the rest of the world (really just the United States) smartens up, the green cars earned their reward of time savings as they are the ones actually doing it right.
Local Authorities Agree
This isn’t something new. Many traffic authorities have made press releases trying to inform drivers that they should learn how to utilize the “zipper method” of merging. Example:
USA Today Article
The yellow villan thinks he’s a hero
You’re not a hero, and you’re actually breaking the law. The yellow car here tends to get praise from other uneducated road warriors for blocking the traffic from properly using the zipper effect at the merge point. All he is actually doing is causing the traffic to pile up behind him even further than it otherwise would, thus impeding even more drivers effected by the excess traffic. Yes, Florida law states you may not block the roadway. Here’s a case in point for a similar situation in Michigan which has the same traffic law: wzzm13.com/article/news/truck-driver-stopped-in-the-left-lane.
Unlawful Speed: 316.183 (5) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.