In a way, merging is an ethics test on the road. Unlike many driving situations, where one vehicle has the right-of-way over another, merging, according to the Alberta Driver’s Guide, “is a shared responsibility between the vehicles joining the roadway and the vehicles already on the roadway.”
So what’s the safest way to do it?
MERGING ON TO A HIGHWAY
According to Rick Lang of AMA Driver Education, the biggest mistake a merging driver can make is not accelerating to match the speed of traffic on the main thoroughfare.
Thus, merging requires a modicum of advance planning. Note the speed limit of the road you intend to enter, but also the speed at which traffic (and, importantly, gaps in traffic) on that road is flowing.
Identify a gap into which you want to merge and adjust your speed accordingly, signaling your intent to merge while you accelerate. Check over your shoulder to confirm the gap remains available and look in your rearview mirror for vehicles behind you.
You may legally merge once you’re past the solid line separating the acceleration lane from the main road. Move into the main road when it’s safe to do so, maintaining a speed consistent with the vehicles around you. Then turn off your signal light.
Drivers already on the highway have a responsibility to allow others to merge safely. “If you can do it safely,” Lang says, “move over to the left traffic lane to allow merging drivers clear access to the roadway.”
MERGING DUE TO A LANE OBSTRUCTION
Occasionally it’s necessary to merge when an accident, roadwork or other obstacle is blocking a lane of traffic.
In such instances, especially when the obstruction has caused significant traffic slowdown, merging becomes less about matching speed and more about courtesy—and communicating your intentions to other drivers.
Lang says the ideal merge in these circumstances employs a “zipper technique.”
“If you’re in the lane that’s going to end, you want to keep going right up to the obstruction. From there, one car merges, then a car proceeds from the non-merging lane, then another from the merging lane, and so on.
Of course this alternating method is not always followed to precision. Minimize potential mishaps by maintaining awareness of the vehicles around you and always signaling your own intentions.
WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED
If you’re still hesitant about merging onto a highway or in need of a refresher for any other driving skills, consider signing up for a Brush-Up Lesson with AMA. It provides at least two hours of in-car instruction and can be customized to suit your needs.