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Road Sage

Fighting the urge to merge: drivers should take the path of least resistance Add to ...

I witnessed a bit of street theatre last week. Traffic was at a crawl thanks to construction and, ahead of me, a guy in a Civic was trying to merge into the right lane. Yet the driver of a fire-red Jeep refused to let him. Every time Civic tried to edge in, Jeep inched up to match him. They came close to a fender-bender. There was simply no way on earth Jeep was going to allow him to occupy the spot ahead of him.

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He’d been blocked. Chastened, Civic looked at me plaintively. I let him merge. It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do. But it got me wondering: Which came first, “creepers” – who try to cut in line – or “blockers,” who steadfastly refuse to let them?

Few motorists aggravate people more than those who zoom up an empty lane (past drivers waiting their turn) and expect to be let in to the front of the line. These are creepers. While it may seem like they have a giant middle finger extending from the roofs of their cars, they’re actually right, applying the universally approved “zipper method,” in which traffic in both lanes proceeds to the point where two merge into one and then drivers take alternating turns.

To “early mergers,” it appears these drivers are cutting in line and they get mad. Early mergers will be damned if they let late mergers get away with butting in line! It becomes a matter of principle and that’s where the trouble starts. Show me a man with principles and I’ll show you a man who lies awake at night obsessing about the height of the grass on his neighbour’s lawn.

The answer is simple. Everybody should use the zipper method. Unfortunately, lane blocking is not restricted to congested areas. It’s executed at high speeds on highways and four-lane urban thoroughfares and it’s dangerous. These drivers can’t tolerate the idea of any other car going in front of them.

I’m referring to “meta-blockers,” people who will speed up when they see you making a legal merge, in order to prevent you from getting ahead of them. These drivers are happy to drive slowly on the highway but, when you pass, they will almost instantly speed up to pass you and then once again gear down to a snail’s pace.

It’s the pathology of perceived effrontery. To the meta-blocker, a merge isn’t a normal driving manoeuvre, it’s a blow to the ego. If you sat down for lunch together, they would insist on ordering first, and heaven forbid if your club sandwich hits the table before theirs does.

I’m not sure what can be done about these motorists. They are perennial. My guess is that 30 seconds after the first two Model Ts rolled off the factory floor, one was blocking the other from merging. Maybe we could use the same psychology as they do in elementary schools – give everyone a medal no matter where they place. We could tell meta-blockers, “When you let someone merge, you aren’t coming in second. You are the first person to let someone in!”

Next time a driver wants in, remember, eventually all things merge into one, and traffic runs through it.

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