The zipper method: Merging safely to avoid collisions

We have all been stuck in heavy traffic (sometimes at a complete standstill) on major highways and roads. We see cars entering the same highway and zooming ahead of us in the merge lane. It looks like those drivers are “cutting line” and keeping us from moving ahead. We nod with respect to the drivers who merge as soon as possible into the near-standstill traffic behind us, thanking them for not cheating the line. But is the polite early-merger actually making traffic worse?

frustrated woman stuck in traffic

The answer, according to traffic experts, is yes. In Virginia, the Department of Motor Vehicles recommends the “Zipper Method” as “the way you should be merging.”

The “zipper merge method” gets its name for the way cars should flow from the merge lane, one after the other, as a succinct and cohesive way of merging. If cars change lanes too early, it congests traffic and causes accidental fender-benders. Using the zipper method means that you use both lanes fully until you reach the defined merge area. Once you reach the end of the drivable road, you then enter the opposite lane. Cars already in the lane should do their part to take turns getting over and allowing cars to enter the highway at that time.

the zipper merge method

This video helpfully demonstrates the effective use of the zipper method in heavily congested traffic. Merging too early often leaves the merge lane open for too long, which results in an increase in congestion. While you may think that the driver who merges early is the polite one, in doing so, they bring existing traffic to a standstill and ultimately slow everyone down.

On the other hand, the zipper method merger is not a rude driver. To the contrary, using the zipper method benefits traffic for everyone by reducing congestion, decreasing accidents in construction zones, keeping speed consistent among all drivers on the road, and reducing the overall number of vehicles in any one area for a long period of time. It is important to remember that drivers who do not use the zipper method put everyone at risk by causing existing highway users to vary their speeds and make sudden lane changes. In that sense, the early merger is causing more harm than good.

While Virginia recommends the zipper merge method, keep in mind that not all states incorporate it. In those that do, more drivers follow the rule if signs or other signals remind them to use the full length of the merge lane.

So, the next time you become impatient with the drivers zooming ahead of you on the merge lane in heavily-congested traffic, remember that they are doing their part to merge safely and efficiently. In that regard, it would be best to share this post with someone today and let others know about this important rule.

If you have been injured in an automobile collision through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Allen & Allen for a free consultation today, at 866-388-1307.