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The right way to merge onto the highway

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Updated 11 Oct 2019

Rachel White

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It used to amaze me the difficulty some drivers seem to have in merging seamlessly onto a highway. Now, it’s just become an expected nuisance.
We are all taught how to drive and how to pass a driving test the same way. Yet as soon as some get free rein on the road, a weird metamorphosis takes over and all the rules go out the window.

It’s true we are all different and we react and act in different ways, but there are also expectations we all share about driving etiquette. We frown upon speeding, we are irritated by tailgaters, and we despise being ‘cut up’ by others or being forced to give way to a driver who is just hellbent on squeezing in front of us. One place where all these behaviours and more can be found is where a merge lane and the highway connect.

When traffic is light, life at the point where the two roads meet is easy. However, when there’s a bit of traffic, when people are in a rush and tempers are frayed, it’s an altogether different experience. But what are the rules around the highway merge? If someone in the merge lane is slightly ahead, are we supposed to give way? It might not be very courteous to prevent them from moving into our lane, but is preventing them from doing so legal? What are the rules?

The rules

If there is a dotted/dashed merge line, a driver is required to indicate their intentions and give way to any vehicles in the lane into which they are merging. That means if you can’t safely pull in behind a car, you are meant to stop and wait until there is an opening.

Good luck doing that in peak-hour traffic. If we all screeched to a halt at the end of the runway and waited for safe distances between cars we would probably have some pretty nasty pile-ups.

Traffic jams and the ‘zip’ method

Call it what you want - gridlock, traffic congestion or just a right royal pain in the rear end. What are the expectations when traffic has ground to a snail's pace? This is when the zip method comes into play.

Imagine a zipper being pulled up. One tooth slots in behind the next tooth and they blend seamlessly as one unit. When merging onto the highway in a traffic jam, this is how things should work. The merging driver moves all the way to the lane’s merge point, indicates their intention to merge, and slots in behind the next car like a tooth on a zipper.

Where does it go wrong?

Unfortunately, some drivers are oblivious to the rules and common courtesies. Their thought process goes one of several ways:

  • Who believes in giving way? I’m going no matter what.
  • I’ll just do 60km/h and pull in with my eyes closed and hope for the best.
  • I'm too scared and indecisive. What if I have to react or brake and can’t merge? Oh no! What will I do?
  • Zipper merge . . . ha ha ha . . . as if! Three cars can fit into that 5m gap!
  • No, I’m not going to let you in. I’m going to sit one metre from the car in front and I will hit you if you keep trying to merge into my space. It’s mine. Go away!

If you should run into any of these folks – and you surely will – it’s probably best just to let it go. Move out of their way and avoid an accident and an agro driver who probably needs to read our guide on how to avoid road rage. Chuck on your favourite tunes and ignore them. They may have learned to drive and passed the test, but there’s no teaching some people. 

If you're doing a lot of highway merging, you will want to make sure your vehicles indicators and brake lights are operational. When you next book an AutoGuru service, ask them to check all your lights are working well.

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Written By

Rachel White

Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars. This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.