Driving Lesson: The Zipper Merge


Driving on the highway back from North Carolina, we see a sign that the right lane is closed in one mile. Immediately drivers start switching to the left lane, leaving the right lane open. I do the opposite, switching from the left lane to the right lane, while the left lane backs up almost to a standstill even though the right lane doesn’t end for close to another mile.

I cruise in the right lane, slowly, steadily passing cars already in the left lane, because traffic experts say the most efficient way to deal with lane closures is the zipper merge. In the zipper merge, drivers use both lanes of the highway until the point where one lane ends, and then take turns merging into the single lane—just like a zipper closing. The zipper merge makes multi-lane highway construction zones safer and helps traffic move through a restricted area more efficiently.

But drivers who don’t know about the zipper merge get offended. They’ve already moved over and think I’m being rude for passing them in the lane that will close. They believe I’m cutting in front of them. Road rage can ensue. Other drivers might not let me in at the merge point. And in this era, I can end up getting shot by another driver.

Fortunately, I’m not shot. Instead, a tractor-trailer decides to play traffic cop and he cuts over in front of me, taking up both lanes, and preventing drivers from safely using both lanes until the merge point.

Truck taking up both lanes to teach me a lesson!

I could easily accelerate past him on the right shoulder, but it’s not worth it. Let this dude be the enforcer of his misguided beliefs if he wants. I’m not in a hurry, just a proponent of traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.

Some states have made the zipper merge the law. Some places put up helpful signs telling drivers to use both lanes until the merge point. But mostly, highway lane closures end up frustrating because people think staying in the lane about to close is rude.

Also, if all lanes are open and you’re driving in the left lane, move the hell over because I’m trying to pass you.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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