We’ve all seen it happen. The construction-triggered special one-day-only pop-up-surprise merge road signs appear, and cars immediately force their way from the right to the left lane; it’s not so much a merge as a game of Chicken. Ahead, the right lane stretches, vast and empty, for a full block, to where the truck with the pointy arrow sits flashing, “Go left, go left.” But it’s too late. Like a left-lurching wave of lemmings, they’ve already gone: The Premature Mergers.
Those signs are laid out well ahead for a reason. They’re planting a seed, giving drivers a chance to get used to the idea: “Hey guys, this is coming up, but no need to stress. You’ve got time. Relax, find your neutral space, you’ll come together when the time is right.” Those signs, they’re a warning, not a call to action.
The problems arise when they aren’t read that way. Panic ensues and the forced merge activity—all higgledy-piggledy—creates dangerous situations in crosswalks and intersections. Lanes are changed over solid white lines, exactly what the nice people who lay out those signs are trying to avoid. It’s The Merge of Chaos.
The ideal model for merging, according to the law and driving instructors, is The Zipper. It’s built on calm and courtesy. The Responsible Merger follows those rules, proceeding carefully through to the end of the right lane, watching for an opening. His compatriots in the left lane have kindly fallen back to create space, just enough for him to execute his merge as God intended: The Zipper Merge.
Look at your coat or your pants and regard the zipper. Observe how the teeth slide peacefully together and proceed to join the sides of your garment, in bliss, as one. It could be like that on our roadways if we all played by the same rules and came together with calm and gratitude.
The Premature Merger disregards the premise of The Zipper. It may be lack of education, a sense of entitlement, or self-righteousness, but they will yield the space they’ve staked out in the left lane over their cold, dead bodies. Resentment has kicked in. The Premature Merger feels like they’ve been cheated. They don’t see a vehicle proceeding calmly down the roadway in anticipation of the appropriate time to engage in the merge; they see a Grease-style race down Thunder Road where they’re left behind, in the dust, with Sandy and the rest of the Pink Ladies.
When that resentment clashes with an approach of responsibility, space dissolves as the right lane shudders and hiccups. Flow becomes stasis, and the dance of The Merge grinds to a halt like fabric caught in the teeth of a zipper.
Why can’t we all just come together as one? Consistent application of The Wave could go a long way toward healing this rift, this Clash of the Mergers. So much can be cured by a simple, kindly upward flick of the hand. The Wave says, “I’m not a jerk who cut you off.” It says, “I sought space and you kindly granted it to me. And for that I thank you.” Courtesy and consideration, that’s the key to bliss on our roads my friends.