Zip merging: are we a nation divided?

zip merging

‘Merge in turn’. We’ve all seen the signs at the end of a two-lane section of road, but how many of us actually do it?

Based on the response from BBC Radio 5 Live listeners this morning, we’re all wonderfully polite and follow the ‘zipper merge’ technique without fuss or bother. But anecdotal evidence would suggest this isn’t entirely true.

For example, how many times have you seen a lorry driver move across to block the two lanes, resulting in two lines of heavy traffic behind the trailer and an entirely clear lane ahead of the cab?

Or, in what appears to be an example of Britain’s obsession with queueing, you find a long line of drivers sat picking their noses and Snapchatting photos of the tailback in one lane, while the other lane lies empty, save for a few crows and the occasional wagtail.

There is a third method, which involves hurtling along the asphalt equivalent of the Mary Celeste, only to barge in at the last minute. According to social media – so often the voice of common sense, balance and reason – this method invariably includes an Audi of some sort.

But, aside from the retina-burning LED lights and the apparent lack of courtesy, isn’t Mr or Mrs Audi doing the right thing?

Divide and conquer

lane closed roadworks

‘Zip merging’ or the ‘zipper merge’ originated from the US as a traffic flow measure designed to ease congestion when a road narrows from two or more lanes to one. In simple terms, drivers should merge at the point of closure, rather than merging in as soon as possible.

In 2008, a study conducted by Ken Johnson, a state work zone engineer in Minnesota, found that the length of the queue is reduced by up to 50 percent when drivers merge in turn. Sounds compelling enough.

And yet, on this evening’s commute home from work, you will find some motorists sat shaking their heads and tutting to themselves as an Audi driver (other German brands are available) shows a total disregard for the rules of the road and our nation’s reputation for politeness.

But while the terribly polite and courteous driver sits behind the wheel of their Hyundai/Skoda/Kia/Suzuki/Lexus (delete as applicable), it is they who are failing to observe the guidance of the Highway Code. Not to mention missing the first 20 minutes of Pointless.

Joined-up thinking required

happy driver

In the section marked ‘Lane discipline’, the Highway Code states: “You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily. Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, e.g. when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed.”

Far be it for anyone to accuse the government of sitting on the fence, but the use of ‘recommended’ is the hardly the conclusive evidence we were after. But the signs asking us to ‘merge in turn’ and ‘use both lanes’ couldn’t be any clearer.

You’ve seen what can happen when the nation is divided, so on the subject of merging in turn, can we engage in a little joined-up thinking? If nothing else, you might get home in time to see the first round of Pointless.