Driving is a major responsibility and privilege. One of the major components of driving is being able to merge lanes. Knowing how to merge lanes correctly keeps you and other drivers safe. Let’s make sure you know how to merge lanes correctly while you’re traveling on the road!

What Is Traffic Merging?

Traffic merging occurs when two streams of traffic combine into a single traffic lane. Previously, different states adopted their own merging rules. Currently, the federal government recommends “zipper merging”, also referred to as “joint lane merging” to reduce traffic backups when traffic merging is required.

Modern zipper merging can feel like an incorrect way to maintain the flow of traffic and a violation of the driving etiquette you’ve learned, so we’ll help you better understand how to correctly merge lanes when you’re driving to help you become more comfortable with it.

Be advised that some states differ on the official method of correctly merging traffic. Check with your local DMV or motor vehicle authority to determine which traffic rules apply in your state.

Are There Different Ways to Merge Into Traffic?

Yes! Let’s discuss different ways you can correctly and safely merge into traffic.

Early Merge

Early merge is a more traditional type of lane merging that is older than other lane merging types. If you’re using the early merge technique, one lane is designated as the open lane. This lane has the right of way. Drivers who are in the other lane will start trying to get into the open lane, which relies on other drivers, who have the right of way, to let them in, allowing them to successfully merge into the lane.

However, early merging, like all lane merging techniques, has its downfalls. Relying on other drivers can cause backups if other drivers can’t successfully merge lanes. Early merging can also leave significant portions of the closed lane unused, which can block more exits and decrease efficiency.

Zipper Merge

Zipper merge is another lane-merging technique when drivers are in a joint lane and merging. Sounds complicated! With zipper merging, both traffic lanes have equal priority. Both lanes of cars can proceed along both lanes until the lane closes. At this time, drivers will alternate (picture the teeth of a zipper) to proceed into the open lane.

The zipper merge technique uses all available lanes to reduce traffic jams and increases safety by reducing the speed difference between traffic lanes when drivers merge into a lane.

How Do You Merge While Driving?

It’s the million-dollar question! To successfully merge while driving, you need to make sure you can safely move from one lane to the other, whether you are merging to the traffic lane on the left or right of you. These expert driving tips can help you understand merging into or out of a traffic lane:

  • Try to maintain or match the speed of traffic in the lane you are going to merge into.
  • Ensure there is enough space (3-5 seconds is recommended) to safely merge into another traffic lane while leaving room for the car that will be behind you and the one in front of you.
  • Check your blind spot at least twice before merging to ensure ample space to merge successfully.
  • You must only change lanes when it’s legal to do so (you will know by the dashed white lines between the traffic lanes.)
  • Make sure you use your turn signal several seconds before merging into a different to notify other drivers that you are changing lanes.
  • Be alert and attentive to prevent distractions when you’re merging into or changing lanes.

Correctly Merging onto the Highway

In most situations, you’ll merge onto the highways using an on-ramp or controlled-access road unless there are lane closures. In this instance, the rules of the road give the right of way to existing traffic, which means drivers who have been traveling on the highway before you merged. Vehicles that arrive on the ramp must wait for an opportunity to safely merge into existing traffic.

As you’re preparing to merge on the highway, use the ramp to increase your speed as you enter the highway. Be alert and yield to drivers that are already on the highway. If you’re already driving on the highway, don’t tailgate the vehicle in front of you and allow enough space between you and other cars for onboarding vehicles to enter the highway.

The Dos and Donts of Lane Merging

Learning to merge into a lane while driving can be difficult and scary, especially when you’re a new driver. Here are a few dos and don’ts of lane merging to keep in mind.

Dos of Lane Merging

Signaling a Lane Change

As you’re driving, you may notice a few drivers neglecting to use their turn signal. Failure to signal to let other drivers know your intention of changing lanes is one of the most common mistakes and it could lead to a car accident.

When you use your turn signals, you’re alerting other drivers and giving them time to make room so you can merge. Be advised that using your turn signal does NOT grant you the right-of-way, so you’ll have to wait until another driver makes room to allow you to merge lanes safely.

You should always use your turn signals, even if there are only a few cars on the road, or you seem to be the only car on the road. It’s always the cars you can’t see that pose the greatest danger!

How Long Should You Use Your Signal?

Great question! You must always leave your signal on long enough to give other drivers time to recognize your turn signal and allow them to make room for you to merge into their lane. The length of time to leave your turn signal on varies by each situation.

Make sure you turn your signal off once you have merged into a different lane. Keep in mind that signaling early is preferred in most driving situations, however, it can be dangerous if you have multiple opportunities to turn. For example, if you use your turn signal BEFORE an intersection to let drivers know you’re going to turn after the intersection, other drivers may falsely assume that you’re going to make a turn at the intersection and pull out in front of you, which can cause an accident.

Always Check Your Mirrors

Checking your mirrors is a part of driving that keeps you, your passengers, and other drivers safe. Your side and rearview mirrors are just as important as any other part of your vehicle. Before you signal to change lanes, check all three mirrors (both side mirrors and rearview mirror) to ensure the other lane has ample space for you to merge safely. If there are other vehicles in the other lane, you should wait for another driver to make room. Remember that you must maintain your speed if people are behind you to prevent disturbing the flow of traffic and possibly causing an accident.

Check Your Blind Spot

Every driver has at least one blind spot. A blind spot is an area that can only be seen by looking over your shoulder, hence the term “shoulder check” you learned about in Driver’s Education (Driver’s Ed). Many avoidable crashes occur because drivers fail to check their blind spots before changing lanes.

Traveling in another driver’s blind spot before changing lanes is dangerous because they won’t be able to see you when they perform their shoulder check. Once you’ve done the necessary checks and ensured the lane you want to merge into is clear, slowly steer into the lane. You should never make a rushed or stressed lane change, meaning you don’t have to hurry once you’ve started switching lanes. However, don’t prolong the lane-changing process more than necessary to ensure your safety.

Ensure Your Signal is Turned Off

Once you’ve switched lanes, make sure your signal is turned off. A lot of drivers fail to turn off their turn signals, which causes unnecessary confusion. You’ve probably noticed that your signal makes a noise when you turn it on. If you’re not sure if you turned off your signal, listen for the ticking or clicking noise.

Plan Your Route in Advance

Planning your route helps you avoid mishaps, such as missing exits, and turns, and driving longer than you have to. When you plan your route, you don’t have to worry about continuously switching lanes to ensure you’re where you need to be.

Dont’s of Lane Merging

Forgetting to Activate or Deactivate Your Turn Signals

We’ve mentioned turn signals and their importance, but forgetting to turn them off is an issue. Drivers will think you still need to merge lanes or that you’re turning, but you’re not, so don’t confuse other drivers! This confusion can lead to an accident that could have easily been avoided.

Suppose you’re signaling left driving straight ahead. In this scenario, a vehicle may turn in front of you assuming that you’re going to turn, and cause a head-on collision. If you’re not sure if another driver is turning or staying in their current lane, wait to see whether the driver starts to turn. You can also use this tip when you’re at intersections. If the driver is slowing down, assume that they are about to turn.

Incorrect Mirror Settings

Your mirrors need to be positioned so you have a view of the areas around your vehicle without changing your position. However, your vehicle’s mirrors won’t correctly adjust to your blind spot, so make sure you perform a shoulder check. Driving with incorrect mirror settings risks your success of safely changing lanes or turning across the path of another vehicle you can’t see before your mirrors don’t give you a view of your blind spot.

Slowing Down Before Merging Lanes

Merging lanes should not disrupt the flow of traffic. Make sure you maintain your speed as you merge into the desired traffic lane. After you’ve successfully merged into the lane, adjust your speed accordingly, which means you will slow down or speed up with the lane’s current traffic flow.

Merging Too Early

Avoid merging lanes if the car behind you has already started to merge lanes or move past you. Use your mirrors, check your blind spot, and ensure the traffic on all sides of you is clear for you to safely merge. You don’t want to merge too early and put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.

You’ve just learned the mechanics of properly merging lanes. Congratulations! These driving techniques will become easier to perform as you drive more. Travel safely!