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Driving Patterns – Let the Ass Merge

Slow merge

fast merge

Narration: [audio:]

We all know the guy. You are stuck in a slowdown usually for no reason other than rubber necking. Sometimes traffic just slows for no apparent reason at all. Maybe there was a sign encouraging people to merge right or left. You want to be doing 113 km/h but you are stuck at 32 km/h. To make the situation more frustrating you catch a glimpse in your mirrors of car speeding past all the nearly parked cars in hopes that it can merge in ahead of some poor sap. You curse, "why can’t he just get in line like the rest of us!" Then you decide to do your part for society. You will bring justice by moving your car so close to the car in front of you that he can’t possibly merge between you two. If only all the other cars would do the same! We could leave this self-important jackass parked while a solid line of cars cheerfully passes leaving him further behind than ahead. Of course, that never really happens. Some weak person 4 cars ahead of you lets him in. Where’s the vindication?!

William Beaty helped me realize that I am the problem, not the other guy. In his essay, Traffic "Experiments" and a Cure for Waves & Jams he suggests a simple cure to the merging-lane traffic jam I just described. Let them in! I have started doing this and even if 3 cars (or more) merge in front of me it has little to no impact on my arrival time at my destination. It does feel good to have not fought someone (positive karma). I have put my family at less risk by not tailgating another driver or inciting road rage in the merging driver.

Drive by looking down the road. We should be doing that anyway. When you see a slowdown, not when you start experiencing it (although it is never too late), create a gap in traffic between you and the car in front of you. If a car merges into that gap, recreate the gap. It works! It feels good! Traffic moves better. And you have been a safer driver.

Note: Conversions to metric courtesy of Images borrowed from Bill Beaty.

Update 7/24/2014: And 7 years later, this hits the news:

8 thoughts on “Driving Patterns – Let the Ass Merge

  1. So … what you’re saying is, you’re the jerk who’s letting the asshole in front of you.

  2. Haha! That’s me!

  3. What stinks though is when you leave that space and they won’t merge there they have to merge 2 or 3 cars ahead of you bycutting them off. That happened to me last night.

  4. In bank-teller lines it’s OK to block the line-jumpers… since they could easily go backwards to the back of the line. At banks, only a total dick would cut in front.

    But on the highway, at a backed-up exit lane, nobody can go backwards to the back of the line. Yet everyone tries to block entry even if newcomers try to cut in quite early! The newcomers see a solid wall of smug, hateful drivers with an attitude of “I’ve got mine, screw everyone else.” Mistake. Instead they’re just trying to block the “cheaters.” But the newcomers who missed the back of the line are not cheaters. In retribution for the “solid wall,” newcomers feel justified in racing up to the only guaranteed opening: the very front of the line.

    So it’s a fight between two normal ethical humans, but where both sides are convinced that their own actions are completely justified, while the OTHER person is a total dick who needs punishment.

    When Zen practitioners say “the world is an illusion,” THIS STUFF IS WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT.

  5. I just wish everyone could recognize the decreasing lane and merge on over … I hate when someone rides the lane out until it merges. But I have started leaving a gap for the guy racing the end of the merge lane because they’ll just force themselves over anyway.

  6. […] Related: Google is mapping Knoxville. How will you be immortalized for the world to view? Do speed cameras change driving habits? See Driving Patterns – Let the Ass Merge. […]

  7. […] Here is another video of an intersection without traffic lights. As a side note and reminder, letting people merge improves traffic flow (even if they cheated instead of waiting their turn). Comments after […]

  8. What is really obnoxious is when you’re a courteous driver who needs to merge, you have your turn signal on, and no one lets you in!

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