Nobody likes the driver who cuts in line when, as the Spice Girls once sung, two lanes become one. Is there any act more selfish, more asinine, more galling than the guy who noses in front of you after you’ve been waiting patiently for your turn? It happens all the time. Construction has closed a lane and drivers must merge. There are those who get into the remaining lane early and wait their turn and there are those who speed by, avoid the wait, and cut in line. We have names for these motorists – “creepers,” “cut-in-liners” and more colourful terms not suitable for a newspaper to publish.
While many malign them, the experts applaud them.
These drivers should be hailed as “zippers” because – whether they realize it or not - they are applying the “zipper method” of merging traffic, the correct means to efficiently combine two lanes of traffic into one.
You could also call the zipper method “after you,” because it involves letting the driver next to you merge in front. Like the teeth of a zipper, vehicles merge alternately one after the other. Studies have shown that the zipper method can make traffic flow 40 per cent more efficiently. It uses more roadway and, consequently, moves us faster. Despite these facts, use of the zipper method is not as common as it logically should be. Note: if a lane closure has caused an accident (or similar calamity), forget the zipper method, move to the right immediately to allow for emergency vehicles to pass.
Politeness is often blamed for the lack of its application. As mentioned earlier, we consider drivers who cruise the empty lane rude. They are cutting in line. This is flawed thinking. It’s the drivers who crowd into the lane early who are causing the problem. Once we accept this fact and apply the zipper method, things improve for everyone.
But what if there are no empty lanes? What then?
That’s the reality today. The traffic is congested. Our zippers are stuck. It’s every car for itself.
Today, we see different and unorthodox methods of merging when construction or the Hand of God have reduced two lanes to one.
Sidewalk Method: Hop the curb and roll. Whisk by pedestrians as construction workers gape in astonishment at your audacity. Almost as irritating as it is illegal, its proponents consider the sidewalk method as a sort of “relief zipper.”
Bike Lane Method: No lane? No problem! Just squeeze your car into the lane reserved for cyclists and put the pedal to the metal. The key here is to harbour a deep-seated disregard for human life. That, and a willingness to put this deep-seated disregard into practical application.
The Turn-Right-then-Make-an-illegal-U-turn-then-Drive-Forward Method: Drivers employ this trick when confronted by a long line of cars waiting to turn left. Rather than wait their turn (“turn” – get it?) these drivers execute this convoluted maneouvre. It’s contagious. Once one motorist pulls it off successfully, many more will follow, creating a jam in the previously empty right lane. Problem solved.
The Chicken Method: Ever wonder how the car in the next lane got all those dents? Well, you’re about to find out. He’s nosing into your lane, and if you don’t make way, you’re going to add to the collection. A time-tested means of merging. It needs no signal, no wave, no pleading look – just a whole lot of ruthless determination.
Ambulance Method: Normally restricted for use on highways, this one’s for the folks who, when life gives them lemons, make lemonade. When life causes a horrible accident, they tailgate the ambulance rushing to the scene so they can pass traffic. While it may seem dangerous, it also reveals a stunning absence of character.
The “Cone? What Cone?” Method: You drive over the orange construction cones.
Mindful Merging Method: Stay in the present. Pay attention to the inconvenience you are causing others. Needlessly stop traffic two blocks from the where the lanes combine and merge. As you poke into the lane, be aware of what you have done. Think “jerk move,” and then let it go. You may have other thoughts condemning your driving. Acknowledge each one, but do nothing about them. Be fully engaged and in your moment of automotive transgression.
There, that’s a start. I may be missing a few. There are as many bad merging methods as there are drivers. Perhaps that is what’s most fascinating about writing about cars and traffic; the worst is always yet to come. There’s always a new discovery to which to look forward. Someone will always take it to the limit one more time.
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