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Late merging: Perception vs reality on the highway


By Jeremy Elliott
Writer, Beat the Traffic
Monday, January 13, 2014, 12:17 PM

Anytime you bring up the subject of merging at on-ramps and construction areas, invariably you will hear people say 'I hate it when people zip down to the end of the merge lane and cut in.'

On the surface it might appear that those drivers who merge at the very end of the ramp are 'cutting in' or 'jumping the queue,' but surprisingly they are not cheating, being rude or causing you delay. In fact late mergers are helping make your drive better!

When traffic on a road is heavy and there is a merge, drivers who merge at the very end of the ramp are helping to keep traffic flowing. Merging early, while it may seem more polite, actually causes an increase in the backup and delay approaching the merge.

To see the effect in real-time, check out this video from the MDOT – it is not the most exciting clip on YouTube but really shows the difference in the backup between late and early merging.

Early merging

  • Does not use the full capacity of the highway.
  • Increases unpredictability (drivers might merge anywhere there is an opening).
  • Increases potential for collisions (following too close, aggressive driving).
  • You are contributing to or creating the backup.

Late merging

  • Uses the full potential of the highway.
  • Removes uncertainty because other drivers know exactly where you will merge (at the end).
  • Reduces collisions and frustration.
  • The merge point is orderly and fair.

If we keep in mind that late merging will improve the drive for all of us, then late merging will become the polite thing to do. An additional factor to consider is the psychology that affects merge timing. If most drivers try to block ‘late mergers’ or will not let them in at the end of the ramp, this will encourage more people to merge early and cause greater delays on our roads.

The impact of merging early or late applies only when traffic is heavy – if traffic is light and there is plenty of space, when or where you merge does not matter, but merging late would be good practice.

Last point to note: this does not apply to off ramps. Drivers who cut into line at an off ramp are not helping traffic flow and are a danger to all of us on the highway.


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