Does the Zipper Merge Fly With You? (Poll)


Jeez, readers, tell us how you really feel. In May, we ran a story exploring the polarizing highway maneuver known as the "zipper merge," and subsequently unleashed a torrent of heated debate, with comments ranging from objective observations to sometimes violently emotional support for one side or the other.

The Zipper Merge: Convincing Motorists Isn't a Snap

Also known as "late merging," the zipper merge is used when traffic is reduced from, say, two lanes to one, typically in a highway construction situation, and motorists in the resulting slowed traffic use both lanes all the way up to the merge point, taking turns into the continuing lane. That, of course, gets right up in the grill of conventional wisdom that tells drivers to get over as soon as possible — and likely cursing any driver who dares proceed up to the merge point before attempting to get over.

While some states still advocate early merging, others swear by the zipper merge, which studies have shown to create fairness for everyone, reduce road-rage incidents and dramatically improve traffic flow through a bottleneck. Given the gut reaction many people have to motorists who didn't "earn" their place in line by merging early — as well as the dissent we had among our own ranks here at — we were rather surprised at the avalanche of support zipper merging received.

About 83 percent of reader comments endorsed the zipper merge. Our pals at Car Talk put the story on their Facebook page, where dissing zipper mergers was punishable by group ridicule on charges of being childishly petty and unscientific. So it was rather surprising when the results of Car Talk's reader poll came in. Less than 45 percent of the 4,680 respondents reported that "drivers who zipper merge are doing the smart thing to keep traffic moving," while 55 percent said "drivers who zipper merge should be tarred and feathered."

We'd like to see this thing settled right here, once and for all. So which is it, people? To zipper merge or not to zipper merge: That is the question. Take the poll below and let's see if we can't come together on how to merge.

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By Matt Schmitz | June 19, 2014 | Comments (10)



I think the proper way to merge should be addressed either during driving tests, traffic safety school, or before renewing your license. Also, I some drivers may be taking their stress out on other motorists with either work or personal situations.


I can agree that in a perfect world the zipper merge is the most efficient way to *merge*. The trouble is, the merge point is not always the actual bottleneck. Often it's the fact that the road past the merge point has narrow barriers, construction workers, a wreck worth looking at, traffic, traffic lights, or other impediments which is causing folks who are already past the merge point to slow down a bit or, in many cases, stop. A more efficient merge won't fix the problem if the merge process itself isn't the bottleneck.

If there is a big lineup of cars in a single file then it's clear that the *merging itself* is not the bottleneck! Whatever is ahead of the long line is causing them to move slower than the surrounding traffic, not the merge itself. The merge point has effectively been moved to a different, "earlier", point on the road. and whatever is slowing down the long line of cars is not merging, but one of the aforementioned factors. At that point, it's a pretty jerky thing to go flying past possibly hundreds of cars and jump to the front of the line.

Derrick G

What Aaron said. But I wouldn't be opposed to the zipper merge when signs saying "DO NOT PASS" aren't posted. Based on what Aaron said, it might make sense to move the merge point even farther away from the narrowest point of the lane.


Give me a C-172 or Piper Warrior and I'll fly over ya' soon as I finish pilot lessons.


zipper merge all the way...even if there is a huge backup ahead of the merge point...keep the zipper merge going - it just makes sense and keeps things fair.


I'm fine with the zipper merge itself. An orderly zipper merge is a thing of beauty and efficiency. What drives me to road rage are the people who were already in the "correct" lane, see that they can zip over into the other lane to pull a few cars ahead, and then try to zipper merge back in. They are lower than low, and deserve a lifetime of uneven table legs.


In cities where traffic is light early merge is probably the way to go. however when thousands upon thousands of cars are fighting for space zipper merge will do.
I drive in car crazy California around here you have to take advantage of every inch of available space.


@Aaron - One problem with your argument. How is somebody supposed to know what's happening up the road miles ahead, over a hill, around a corner and generally out of sight? Example: I'm still three miles away from a merge point displaying signage to use both lanes to the merge point, and traffic is already backed up in the continuing lane. I can't see what's going on past the merge point, let alone at the merge point, to make the decision you propose.

Your forgetting that the point of the zipper serves TWO purposes. First is to increase the throughput at the merge, and the second is to decrease the overall traffic backup by utilizing as much open asphalt that's available. It's the safer way too because you don't have two lanes of traffic at widely different speeds and in close proximity.


I'm with nachos. A single file line isn't going to move traffic through any better than the zipper merge, which encourages a more fair system.

An exception would be when you are in an exit only lane. Then yes, it would be courteous to drivers who want to exit to go ahead and merge over as soon as possible.


Zipper is new to many older drivers and our species does not tolerate change well. That being said, the zipper merge works because it forces every driver to make a decision with one very close motorist: "Do I let that person in whose face I can see?" Or, "Is that other person I'm looking at in the face going to allow me in?" Most people will do as everyone in front of them is doing and assume a 1:1 ratio - aka the zipper merge. Early merging lets people make unsupported, usually negative decisions about faceless motorists at high speeds. It assumes the existence of a social contract/construct that disappeared many years ago, in the early days of the Interstate highway system, from say, the 1950s through the 1970s.

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