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How To Merge

Since I stared this site I thought my own personal road raging had stepped a notch down, until that magical night at the ball game.  It was actually after the ball game when everyone was trying to leave.  What a joke!  Merge like a zipper you say?  No way.  It was more like a demolition derby to the finish line.  Absolutely no method of control.  Maybe it's just the San Francisco Bay area, but it seems to me nobody around here cares or understands how to merge.  Maybe there should be a law that ensures there is some man power directing traffic after a large event besides police.  Sending 10,000 plus vehicles out onto the streets after they just spent a half an hour bulling each other for position seems a bit crazy to me.

First you need to understand the basic concept of merging like a zipper.  Car in lane 1 goes, then car in lane 2 goes, then car in lane 1 goes, and then car in lane 2 goes.  This should continue on throughout the merge.  It is very easy to see who should be next.  Unfortunately not everyone pays attention or drives the same speed.  So two cars go instead of one, and then sometimes others try to make up for that lost and squeeze in when it's not their turn.  Either way it all get turned into a mess, unless you play along.  If everyone stuck to the zipper theory merges would be a snap.

Below is information provided by California Department of Motor Vehicles.  Easy information for anyone to understand.  Unfortunately it doesn't cover parking lot madness, but the basics are here.

Merging In And Out Of Traffic

Whenever you enter traffic, signal and be sure you have enough room to enter safely. You have to share space with traffic already on the road and you must know how much space you need to merge with traffic, to cross or enter traffic, and to exit out of traffic.

Space To Merge

Enter the freeway at or near the speed of traffic. (Remember that the maximum speed allowed is 65 mph on most freeways.) Do not stop before merging with freeway traffic unless absolutely necessary. Freeway traffic has the right of way.

Any time you merge, you need a gap of at least four seconds. However, this gives both you and the other vehicle only a two second following distance.

  • Donít try to squeeze into a gap that is too small. Leave yourself a big enough space cushion.
  • Watch for vehicles around you. Use your mirrors and turn signals. Turn your head to look quickly to the side before changing lanes. Leave three seconds of space between you and the vehicle ahead. Make sure you can stop safely if you must.
  • If you need to cross several freeway lanes, cross them one at a time. If you wait until all lanes are clear, you may cause traffic delays or an accident.

Space To Cross Or Enter

Whenever you cross or enter city or highway traffic from a full stop, you will need a large enough gap (from cars approaching in either direction) to get up to the speed of other vehicles. You need a gap that is about:

  • Half a block on city streets.
  • A full block on the highway.

If you are crossing lanes or turning, make sure there are no cars or people blocking the path ahead or to the sides. You donít want to be caught in an intersection with traffic coming at you.

Even if you have the green light, do not start across if there are cars blocking your way.

Donít start a turn just because an approaching vehicle has its turn signal on. The driver may plan to turn just beyond you. The signal may have been left on from an earlier turn. This is particularly true of motorcycles. Their signal lights donít always turn off by themselves. Wait until the other driver actually starts to turn before you continue.

Space To Exit

When you plan to exit the freeway, give yourself plenty of time. You should know the freeway exit you want as well as the one that comes before it. To exit safely:

  • Change lanes one at a time until you are in the proper lane to exit the freeway.
  • Signal your intention to exit ó approximately five seconds.
  • Be sure you are at the proper speed for leaving the traffic lane ó not too fast (so you wonít lose control) and not too slow (so the flow of traffic can still move freely).

Passing Other Traffic

Space To Pass

Always signal before passing. Donít pull out to pass unless you know you have enough space to return.

Avoid passing other vehicles, including motorcycles and bicycles, on two-lane roads. It is dangerous. Every time you pass, you increase your chances of having an accident. Be patient when passing a bicyclist. Slow down and pass only when it is safe. Do not squeeze the bicyclist off the road.

At highway speeds of 50 to 55 mph, you need a 10 to 12 second gap in oncoming traffic to pass safely. At 55 mph, you will travel over 800 feet in 10 to 12 seconds. So will an oncoming vehicle. That means you need over 1600 feet (or about one-third of a mile) to pass safely. It is hard to judge the speed of oncoming vehicles one third of a mile away.

You must judge whether or not you have enough room to pass whenever you approach:

  • An oncoming car.
  • A hill or a curve.
  • An intersection.
  • A road obstruction.

Vehicles donít seem to be coming as fast as they really are. A vehicle that is far enough away generally appears to be standing still. In fact, if you can really see it moving closer to you, it is probably too close for you to start to pass.

Space To Return

Before you return to your driving lane, be sure you arenít dangerously close to the car you have just passed. One way to do this is to look for the car in your inside rear view mirror. When you can see both headlights in your rear view mirror, you have enough room to return to your driving lane. Donít count on having enough time to pass several cars at once. Also, donít count on other drivers making room for you.

Information provided by California Department of Motor Vehicles