I live in the Midwest, where being polite is a popular pastime. When we see signs on the road that state a lane is closed up ahead, every instinct in our flyover country bones screams to get over as soon as possible, to form an orderly line, to wait our turn.
Anger bubbles to the surface when we see people speeding along in the soon-to-be-closed lane, waiting until the last possible moment to squeeze into the remaining lane. People don’t want to let them in. People drive in the middle of the two lanes to try to stop them from passing.
And this time? Polite people are wrong.
According to HowStuffWorks, properly utilizing the “zipper merge,” in which people from the closing lane merge, every other car, at the last minute, is the most efficient way to get through a lane closure and prevent a backup.
Doing it correctly prevents one long line of cars from forming, maximizes road capacity, and keeps the situation safer. And if you don’t believe me, they’ve even set up this cool little animation!
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, using the zipper merge correctly can reduce everyone’s wait time in backed up traffic by around 40%.
The bottom line, though, is that the zipper merge only really works if everyone is doing it, so we need to spread the word – a fact that, according to one psychological study, may be an uphill climb.
It found that people like to “pre-crastinate,” or to get a task out of the way as soon as possible, even if doing so isn’t in our best interests. It means that our very nature encourages us to merge early and wait, rather than bring on the stress of needing to find someone to let you in once you’re at the end of your lane.
If you can beat your instincts, though, you can feel smug in the fact that you’re doing it right by “zippering” in…even if people do wag a few specific fingers in your face for your efforts.