The Highway Code recommends we ‘merge in turn’ (or ‘zip merge’) – but the vast majority of us don’t, even though research shows ignoring it can lead to increased congestion – and frustration – on our roads.
A survey of 22,000 British drivers has revealed that 70% of us are not aware of the Highway Code’s rules about ‘merging in turn’ (or ‘zip-merging’). This is when one of the lanes on a dual carriageway or motorway is being closed up ahead and drivers should prepare to move over into the remaining open lane(s).
In Britain, however slowly we are traveling, most of us tend to move out of the closing lane immediately after seeing a lane closure warning sign – because of road works or an accident – as we think it’s polite and is following correct driving ‘etiquette’.
In fact, according to the Highway Code, cars should be merging later – at the point of lane closure (if safe to do so) – allowing one car from the closing lane to enter the open lane with that lane’s cars alternately; in effect, the cars in both lanes coming together in tandem like two halves of a zip being pulled together.
You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed. In congested road conditions do not change lanes unnecessarily. Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, e.g. when approaching road works or a road traffic incident. It is not recommended at high speed.”
– Rule 134, Lane Discipline, Highway Code.
Knock on effect
By not merging correctly, studies show that we create more congestion because we leave the closing lane unused for longer. It can lead to one lane of gridlocked traffic instead of two lanes of slow moving traffic.
Two factors could explain why we are hesitant to follow the Highway Code correctly. First, it is not uncommon for drivers to become irritated by those choosing to merge at the lane closure – most of us believe that it is rude plus think it creates more traffic in the process (the opposite is true). This in turn leads to us all becoming reluctant to zip-merge for fear of upsetting other drivers.
“Highway Code? What Highway Code?”
The second explanation is potentially far more serious – people simply don’t know their Highway Code. The survey reveals that only 27% of us know that zip-merging is okay to do under the right circumstances.
More worryingly, 3% of us actually believe it is fine to straddle two lanes to stop other vehicles from passing us.
Perhaps the bigger issue is that 36% of drivers haven’t bothered looking at the Highway Code since passing their test with 20% stating they have not read the Code for over a decade.
The cost to us all
Such a lack of Highway Code knowledge could be a contributing factor to the findings of new research, which reveals UK drivers lost an average of 178 hours in 2018 due to traffic. According to Inrix’s 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, the worst areas are London where motorists lost 227 hours due to congestion, Birmingham (134 hours) and Glasgow (99 hours).
By correctly using zip-merging, perhaps such horrendous figures can be lowered in future, freeing up time for you to get where you want to go more quickly – instead of being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.