What Texas drivers do (and don’t) understand about the merger

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Isn’t it annoying when a driver waits until the last second to merge? According to the traffic laws of many countries, this is actually the best strategy.

Although the commonly referred to as “zip merge” may seem counterintuitive, a growing number of experts claim that the merge strategy helps traffic flow more smoothly and safely. A growing number of states, including Kansas, Utah, Missouri and Washington, have begun requiring drivers to use it in recent years.

However, many drivers do not understand what a “zip merge” is, and many may be confused about how Texas traffic laws even address merging.

What is a “zip merge”?

According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, a “zip merge” occurs in a lane closure or lane end situation when drivers use both lanes of traffic to the designated merge area, where they then alternate turns in a “zip” fashion into open bar.

“When traffic volumes are heavy and traffic is moving slowly, it is much safer for drivers to stay in their current lane until the point where traffic can take turns to merge,” the Kansas Department of Transportation said on your website.

The department noted that congestion is a frustration that all drivers share and that they should be careful when taking turns while merging and allowing other drivers to merge into space.

“Research shows that this method is safer and helps things move more smoothly through the merge point as drivers cooperate and create gaps, thereby eliminating the injection of brute force into the passing lane,” Texas Highway Man wrote in a blog post. “It is these sudden, unexpected forced merges, especially from a stop, that cause shock waves in traffic that create the stop-and-go conditions common in these situations. When people take turns and know that’s the expectation, they can gradually open a gap earlier while still moving. Drivers in the closed lane can anticipate where they will merge, line up and smoothly merge without having to stop.”

The Texas Highway Man went on to note that another benefit of the strategy is that filling the closed lane can prevent “opportunistic drivers from taking advantage of an empty lane to cross at the front of the line.”

However, he also argues that when traffic is free, it may still be best to merge early to avoid forcing drivers in the passing lane to slow down and allow others to merge at the last second . Both the idea that the zipped strategy works best in heavy traffic and the benefits of avoiding more sudden forced merges were also promoted in a blog post by the Texas Department of Transportation in San Antonio.

Studies conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation showed that the zip strategy could reduce delays by up to 40 percent in heavily congested areas, and a 2008 study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation suggested the method could reduce traffic by anywhere between 40 and 50 percent.

What does the Texas merger look like?

TxDOT San Antonio published a long list of US studies, officials, and laws promoting the “Zipper Fusion” method. However, it still seems largely unknown and unused in Texas and has not been officially adopted. Meanwhile, the Texas Transportation Code has more to say on the issue of right-of-way and yielding when merging onto multi-lane roads.

The Texas Transportation Code states that on a roadway divided into three or more one-way lanes, a driver must yield to left-hand traffic when entering the right-hand lane. This means that when entering a Texas highway or freeway, drivers must legally yield to vehicles already traveling on that road. Although drivers already in the roadway may yield to those trying to merge to avoid an accident or as a courtesy, it is not part of the law.

This statute also applies to regular lane changes on multi-lane roads. While it doesn’t give much indication of how early drivers should merge when the lane is expected to end, the law says it’s the merging driver’s duty to slow down or stop until it’s safe to enter the lane to allow their left.

If necessary, the Texas Transportation Code also says that a driver can enter the curb while merging into traffic and accelerate there until he reaches sufficient speed to make a safe left turn.

On the other hand, the Texas Transportation Code states that drivers on a frontage or service road to a freeway or expressway are required to yield to traffic exiting that freeway or expressway, even if there are no yield signs.

In general, whether using the zip method, entering or exiting Texas highways, drivers are encouraged to consider the situation around them and, when in doubt, to yield. More information about Texas driving safety and laws can be found on the TxDOT website.

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