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Zipper Merging: A Controversial Practice That’s Gaining Momentum

Trying to merge in a construction zone is extremely frustrating, and it’s only made worse by the person who speeds by in the other lane and cuts to the front of the line. Surprisingly, that person may actually be doing the right thing. It’s called “zipper merging,” and traffic experts say it’s the most efficient way to merge.

Zipper merging is a process that encourages drivers to use either the open or closed lane until they reach the merge point, instead of merging as soon as possible into the open lane, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Studies have shown that zipper merging is more efficient because it maximizes the available road space and keeps drivers moving at higher speed, according to the FHWA. However, some have argued that zipper merging is more dangerous because of the abrupt nature of last-second merging.

Let’s review the pros and cons of zipper merging to see if it really is safer than the patient and cautious way some of us abide by now.

Pros of Zipper Merging

Increases the Flow of Traffic

Waiting at the back of a long line of slow moving traffic can make the blood boil. Zipper merging has been found to cut down on traffic wait time, because drivers are able to merge at higher speeds, according to the FHWA.

Specifically, the FHWA report cited a study that found zipper merging increased the amount of cars moving through a given work zone by 15 percent. The report also said that this type of merging should reduce merging wait time by 50 percent because using two lanes is quicker than all the cars lining up in one.

Fewer Incidents of Road Rage

As we mentioned before, it is upsetting to patiently wait in line to merge and someone else zooms passed in the other lane and cuts to the front of the line. In some instances, this anger translates into incidents of road rage.

The Pennsylvania DOT developed the zipper merge for the very purpose of reducing the number of road rage incidents, according to the FHWA. When drivers try to squeeze in at the last second, other drivers try to prevent them. In some instances they do not let them enter at the merge point, while in others they straddle both lanes to prevent drivers from zooming by in the outside lane.

The zipper merge reduces this because it makes it acceptable to use both lanes before a merge. As long as people are willing to take turns at the merge point, there is no reason for unrest.

More Instructions, Fewer Accidents

Signs that warn of an impending merge are often posted well before the merge point. The signs are there to warn cars to slow down, because cars ahead of them are likely moving at a slower speed. However, when congestion builds, and the line of traffic gets longer, it can begin to stretch beyond the signs warning of the merge. Cars then have no warning to slow down and the likelihood of a rear-end collision increases, reports say.

Zipper merging is more efficient, therefore traffic is less likely to build up passed the signs placed along the road that warn of the impending merge, according to the FHWA. This can decrease the likelihood of a rear-end collision and make driving less hazardous.

Cons of Zipper Merging

Zipper Merging is Only Safe Sometimes

The zipper merge was developed to address problems that occur at times when there are a lot of cars on the road. People are driving slower, and late merging is easier to pull off at when people are vigilant and driving slower.

There are doubts that zipper merging is safe when there is no congestion, according to the FHWA. When speeds are higher, there is an increased risk of confusion when merging late, which could increase the likelihood of an accident, the agency says.

Meanwhile, merging early and waiting in line is slower but always safe.

Drivers Need to Re-Learn How to Merge

The late merge is a foreign concept to American drivers, because most of us are taught to merge early. Only a small number of drivers try to merge at the last second, and they are often viewed with contempt.

If the zipper merge is to be successfully implemented, drivers need to be made aware that this is how things are going to be done now. They also need time to adjust to the new system, because the zipper merging happens at higher speeds, and requires more focus.

States that have tried implementing the zipper merge have put up signs with specific instructions about how to do it, but in some places, like Minnesota and Colorado, drivers were hesitant to change their ways, according to the New York Times.

Merging or Not, Accidents Can Happen

If you are in a car accident while merging, or in any other situation on the road, you may be entitled to compensation for repairs and medical bills. Our car accident attorneys may be able to help, and will know how to help you navigate the often frustrating process of working with insurance companies. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case evaluation to find out if you have a case.

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