To Merge or Not To Merge?
When you are driving, usually towards a construction zone or some other choke point in the road, when is the appropriate time to merge for the lane of traffic which is ending? There are two schools of thought when it comes to this subject. One school of thought is to merge early and avoid driving all the way to the choke point. The other school of thought is to use every bit of the ending lane without coming to a stop and then merging. I have discussed this subject with numerous people and I have come to one concrete conclusion. When to merge draws a visceral response from most people. I am going to explain the logic from each point of view and then I will tell you why both types of mergers are correct.
There is a common sense appeal to the idea of getting in line when you see that sign that says “Merge Left – 1500 Feet.” It makes sense that if an orderly line is formed early that the flow of traffic will not be impeded. The logic follows that those that go all the way down the lane which is ending and attempt to merge late causing a bottleneck at the choke point. It makes sense, right. We have been taught all of our life to get in line early and that cutting is rude. Some states, such as California, endorse early merging because late mergers slam on their brakes as their lane ends which result in rear end collisions.
There is another school of thought which says you should merge late. When two lanes merge into one it is called a zipper merge. The late merging school of thought states that utilizing the ending lane all the way to the choke point will decrease the traffic jam that exists before the choke point. This traffic jam is caused by early mergers cramming themselves into one lane when two are available for travel. The late mergers would also argue that the early mergers refusal to allow cars that they deem to be cutting into line actually causes the traffic accidents. Minnesota has performed extensive research on zipper merges and has concluded that the late mergers benefit themselves, as well as traffic in general. Furthermore, the early mergers seem to be more prone to fits of road rage because of the cultural disdain for those that cut in line.
Who is Correct?
Both schools of thought have their advantages. The studies that have been done seem to indicate that if traffic is moving at a normal or close to normal highway speed then it is best to move over early. If traffic is moving at a slowed pace then it is best to use both lanes all the way up to the choke point. This zipper technique requires cooperation from all drivers. The drivers who have already merged need “play nice” and let the late mergers blend into traffic. The Minnesota study indicated that if cars utilized the zipper merge technique traffic backups could be reduced by as much as 40%. 
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