Editorial board and writers opine on many subjects, most of which take place in the political arena. These opinions can create heated reactions, as partisans from one side or another take issue with whatever we tackle each day.
But we’re about to wade into a bigger, more complicated, and arguably more controversial matter altogether: merging in traffic.
AAA recommends — as do numerous state departments of transportation — that drivers wait to merge until the last moment. This is called “zipper merging,” and it has a simple rationale: Merging early causes inefficiency. Think of it this way: If you merge a mile before necessary, you’re possibly causing delays in one lane of traffic, while emptying another that’s still perfectly good. It’s better for overall traffic flow to use both lanes, and then merge when one of them actually ends.
This is easier said than done, of course. We were all taught in school not to cut in line, and there’s something about waiting to merge that seems, well, jerky. But the evidence shows, simply and conclusively, that it works.
"The zipper merge has shown to keep traffic moving more smoothly, compared to a less structured approach," said William Van Tassel, American Automobile Association manager of driver training programs, in a June story published by USA Today.
In short, merging this way allows traffic to move more quickly (both lanes are filled), reduces accidents (drivers don’t randomly decide to merge at earlier points in stop-and-go traffic) and levels the playing field (everyone is expected to do the same thing at the same time).
But we hear you. We know what you’re saying, even as you read these words.
“I’m never going to do that.”
“Merging that way just sounds rude!”
“I hate it when people try to merge at the last minute.”
These feelings are valid, and indeed some states have struggled to educate drivers about the zipper merging. Kansas itself introduced the concept back in 2016 during some highway projects, and making these kinds of shifts in public behavior takes time.
But we could all benefit by taking a safer, more deliberate approach to driving. Public officials should make sure to continue education efforts, showing the usefulness of this method. And traffic projects themselves, through signage, can make the expectations clearer. Together, we can make roads and drivers safer.
We know it’s a tough opinion to handle. But zipper merging makes sense to us.