Zip rules

Q&A with Sharon Peters

Q: Recently you and others who were describing driver bullying tactics mentioned the person who doesn’t merge early when there’s notice of a lane closure ahead, but keeps moving ahead in the soon-to-close lane until the very end, then moves over in front of others into the one open lane. Bad behavior? I say it is NOT, sometimes. When traffic is light and moving at the speed limit, motorists should merge back where the warning signs indicate a lane closure ahead. This allows orderly flow and less last minute braking. But when traffic is heavier and comes to a near stop, it makes sense to fill both lanes and merge every other car at the closure point. In Europe they use this “zipper” method of merging. Cars that reach the slowdown area in each lane end up merging almost exactly in the order they arrived. Why not fill both lanes up to the merge point?

A: I agree with you in theory. I’ve seen it work well in Europe. I’ve also observed that European drivers tend, in general, to be paying closer attention to actual driving than U.S. drivers, who have all that phone talking, texting, body maintenance, eating and drinking and personal hygiene of which to take care. So expecting us to execute a new maneuver when there’s so much more to which we are devoting our attention probably is asking too much.

And I’m only half fooling with that statement.

In fact, in some states, there have been efforts to guide drivers into the zipper approach. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, for example, has an online page that instructs drivers and explains the purpose: “When a lane is closed in a construction zone, a zipper merge occurs when motorists use both lanes of traffic until reaching the defined merge area, and then alternate in “zipper” fashion into the open lane,” Minnesota highway officials write. It can reduce traffic tie-ups and accidents.

But it’s not an easy sell, partly because it’s new and partly because we in this country regard it as aggressive and get pretty steamed up when drivers do this. I think campaigns to change driver culture will have to take place before this is accepted in any widespread way. What say the rest of you about it?

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What’s your question? Sharon Peters would like to hear about what’s on your mind when it comes to caring for, driving and repairing your vehicle. Email