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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
Some states, like Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are trying to educate their drivers to use the zipper method. Kansas even has a funny video about it.
Hopefully drivers across the country will quit getting mad at the efficient drivers out there—those late mergers—and will start following their lead.
Traffic Is Really, Really Bad For You
Not only does sitting in traffic put one in a bad mood, according to a study from the University of Surrey, when you’re stuck in a big traffic mess, pollutant levels can be up to 40 times higher than when traffic is moving.
Why? Pollution is going to be more concentrated when all the cars are jammed up together, as opposed to moving down the highway.
traffic jam cars photoPhoto by dmuth
The study points out that the World Health Organization has placed outdoor air pollution among the top 10 health risks faced by humans, noting that it’s linked to 7 million premature deaths a year. Car exhaust is one such pollutant.
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So, what to do about it? According to an article on CNET,
“The study claims that the best way to beat traffic pollution is to sit in your car with the windows closed and the fan off. Sounds perfect for August. It’s also safe to set your climate control to re-circulate the air already inside the car, which prevents outside pollutants from making their way in.”