Although it’s a necessary part of the traffic system, you absolutely hate construction, and you’re pretty sure the majority of other drivers have the same viewpoint. However, it isn’t the dust or tar smell that aggravates you, nor the incessant drilling and banging. It isn’t even the fact that lanes are closed while construction is occurring. No, what you hate are the actions of other drivers in the cramped and slow-moving confines of the construction zone.

Every time you’re stuck in a construction backup, you see at least three cars bypass traffic in the lane that is going to end. When you manage to get up to the merge point, you then have to deal with them trying to push over. Why didn’t they just get over when everyone else did? Why did they feel it necessary to ride the closing lane all the way up to where it ended, upsetting everyone else in line?

Zipper Merge Pros and Cons

Late merging, also known as zipper merging, is a highly debated maneuver. In fact, the rivalry between those who oppose zipper merging and those who embrace it parallels the angst between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.

So, what is a zipper merge and why is it so controversial?

When a lane is closed in a construction zone, a zipper merge occurs when motorists utilize both lanes of traffic up until the defined merge area. Then each lane takes turns, alternating pass-throughs in a "zipper-like” fashion, into the open lane. The Department of Transportation suggests that zipper merging decreases potential accidents and increases efficient traffic flow in construction zones. However, although the theory is commendable, the practice has its own flaws; namely human intervention, entitlement, and ignorance. 

When motorists disregard courtesy and safety or negatively respond to stressful situations, disastrous issues arise. When it comes to zipper merges, risks include:

  • “Entitled” drivers. Many motorists will utilize the “closing” lane to simply bypass traffic, not as a way to be more efficient. If you ride the closing lane in order to get ahead of everyone else, this sense of entitlement will unfortunately follow you to the actual merge point, possibly causing you to dangerously push into traffic when there isn’t room. The problem is that since your lane ended, legally you have to yield to traffic. This means that you must wait until someone actually lets you in (which may be a while since you just basically cut off a line of irritated people). If no one will let you in and you decide to push in instead, you could cause a disastrous accident.
  • Impatient motorists. On the other hand, if you did merge early, and were stuck in the backed-up line, you’re generally not in the best of moods when you finally approach the merge point. Regrettably, this means that you may be overzealous with keeping the closed lane mergers from getting over. Although you technically have the right of way, and don’t legally have to let anyone over, courtesy and merging etiquette laws suggest that if you can let mergers over, you should. Unfortunately, stress and road rage can cause niceties to be thrown out the window.
  • Road rage. Never underestimate the power of road rage. Rage can drive the sweetest person into a crazed ‘warrior for justice’ (at least in his own mind). Sitting in traffic, barely moving an inch every five minutes can enrage even the most patient person. This anger can be multiplied when you witness someone else flying by like he’s better than you. If you’re not careful, rage can take control and cause you to make risky mistakes like blocking the lane as another motorist comes barreling through. Likewise, if you’re the one riding the “closed” lane, you must be wary of those drivers who have reached their limits.
  • Lack of sharing leads to worse backups. When entitlement, rage and lack of common courtesy affect your and other motorists’ abilities to take turns, a merging bottleneck can cause horrendous traffic buildups. Instead of a constant flow, you’ll have dozens of cars trying to push their way through without any semblance of order. The “open” lane technically has the right of way, so they’ll try to push through, while the “closed” lane will also try to inch in, until the “closed” lane stops for them. At that point, instead of taking turns (open, closed, open closed...) several closed lane drivers will take the opportunity to barrel through, consequently taking advantage of the one decent driver who paused to let the one person in in the first place.

Road Rage and Zipper Merging 

Although the zipper method seems like a good idea in theory, the actual practice of this method depends on every motorist knowing the proper procedure. If there was a way to make sure drivers would adequately and courteously follow the rules of taking turns, the zipper merge could prevent many rage, confusion, and construction merging accidents.

Consequently, if indecency and entitlement win out, you could wind up suffering far worse ramifications than an extra 15 minutes in traffic. If that’s the case, and you suffer severe injuries due to a merging accident, call us immediately. We’ll provide you with a free consultation to discuss your case and make sure you’re fully aware of your legal rights and options. Don’t allow someone else’s mistake to upset your life; let us help you secure the future you deserve. Call now!

Do you have an opinion about zipper merging? Let us know by liking us on Facebook, and Twitter, or follow us on Google Plus and leave us your comments. We want to hear what our community has to say about driving safety, so feel free to let us know.

Andrew Thomas
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Civil litigation attorney in Virginia and is AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

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