If You’re Not Going to Use the “Zipper,” Then Don’t Bother Driving!

To the idiot on I-81 in Western New York: I told you so!

To the idiot on I-81 in Western New York: I told you so!

Allow me to explain: A couple months ago, my family and I were driving to my sister’s when we came upon a lane closure. Now, I had been taught early on that the best and safest way to proceed was to stay in your lane until it ended and then merge into the through lane, alternating with cars in that lane. That is, a car from one lane goes followed by a car in the other, and so on. This is known as the “Zipper Merge.” It’s safe, keeps traffic moving, and builds a bit of camaraderie, as in, we’re all in this traffic nightmare together.

So as I prepared to merge, I was surprised when the car in the next lane cut me off. I was even more taken aback when he flipped me the bird while shouting that I should have merged half a mile back.

I, having graduated from a top liberal arts college, calmly leaned over my wife and cursed him out in English, French, and Latin. At that point, my daughter ripped off her ear buds and grabbed the dog for protection, while my wife and I struggled over control of her passenger-side window.

My enemy finally moved on, and the driver behind him let me in, and we all went on our less-than merry way. But when I got home, I did a little research, and guess what? I was right! A quick scan of YouTube showed scads of videos from various states’ Departments of Traffic urging drivers to use the Zipper Merge. The Kansas DOT tells its drivers: “When traffic is backed up the best thing to do is not merge early.” According to Minnesota’s DOT, the benefits of my favorite merge are many:


  • Reduces differences in speeds between two lanes
  • Reduces the overall length of traffic backup by as much as 40 percent
  • Reduces congestion on freeway interchanges
  • Creates a sense of fairness and equity that all lanes are moving at the same rate

“When most drivers see the first ‘lane closed ahead’ sign in a work zone, they slow too quickly and move to the lane that will continue through the construction area,” write my new best friends. “This driving behavior can lead to unexpected and dangerous lane switching, serious crashes, and road rage.”

While many motorists are bullied out of doing what’s right by other drivers, Minnesota’s DOT tells drivers to forgo being “Minnesota nice” (I don’t have to worry about that, I’m New York Pissy). Instead, “As you see the ‘lane closed ahead’ sign and traffic backing up, stay in your current lane up to the point of merging, then take turns with other drivers to safely and smoothly ease into the remaining lane.”

People argue the zipper merge is the equivalent of cutting the line. But is it fair to be stuck in traffic with cars dangerously merging at odd intervals, making the wait even more exasperatingly long? No, I’ll stick with what the professionals suggest. And should I ever see that driver in Western New York again and this time he’s the one who needs to merge, I know what I’ll do: Like him I’ll lift up my hand … but this time, I’ll wave him in.

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Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.