Stop Trying To Make The 'Zipper Merge' Happen

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The Minnesota Department of Transportation, apparently having solved the problem of bridges that suddenly collapse and kill people, has now moved on to trying to get people to use the maddening “zipper merge” when a lane is closed. Good freakin’ luck.

Even if you’ve never heard someone use the term “zipper merge” or traveled to a country where this is more common, you’ve nevertheless experienced someone trying to execute this maneuver ad hoc.

Imagine a two-lane highway with road construction ahead and a crescendo of orange cones filling the left lane that are forcing drivers over to the right. Because you are a decent and fair human being you saw the myriad “Left Lane Closed In XXX Feet” signs and pulled to the right lane with everyone else.

Just as you’re about to get to where the cones completely block the left lane there’s one driver, typically in a BMW 6 Series, tries to jam his way into your lane with same grace of a teen boy who just won his first game of spin the bottle trying to place his tongue between the intricately wired teeth of a freshman tuba player.


The name you reserve for this person is usually not “zipper merger,” but rather “dumb asshole.”

Despite this there are many people trying to push this behavior on the driving public. North Carolina tested it with these dumb signs that just show a zipper. Imagine driving down the highway and seeing that. What are you supposed to think?


And it’s not just local DOTs but it’s a perennial preoccupation of websites (including our own sister website) and more recently The New York Times, who argues (emphasis mine):

Drivers should use both lanes until traffic slows, then you do what they taught you in kindergarten: Be nice. Take turns. Instead of bunching up to prevent the jerk in the other lane from cutting in, you leave space so he can glide in. Then a car from your lane proceeds. Then you let another driver cut in. And so on. As you approach the final merging point, leave even more space.


I want to believe in human beings. I want to have omnipotent power and be able to make everyone behave in ways that result in a better world for all of us. And if I had that power I would have everyone use this merging technique because it is arguable more efficient (California believes it is less safe and the feds are neutral).

But if your advice is premised on the idea that you should give into the jerk, then your advice isn’t going to work. A zipper merge supposedly creates a sense of fairness in that both lanes move at the same speed, but that’s only true if everyone maintains the same consistent slow speed and doesn’t freakout when someone tries to get into the lane.


And that’s the bigger problem. While I hate the motorist who tries to jam their Eagle Premier into my lane, the even worse offender is the angry moron in a truck-nutted Chevy Avalanche riding my ass or slamming on the brakes in order to vigilante this from happening. You are not cool or tough if you try to block someone from merging, you’re just a different kind of asshole.

Maybe, if you have a police officer and a lot of signs, you can get people to zipper merge Minnesota, but that seems like a lot of resources to spend when one report states as many as 6.4 percent of your bridges were structurally deficient last year.


Let this dream die.