No, it’s not the latest dance craze. The “zipper merge” is how good drivers navigate merging situations in traffic. As you might have guessed, it works like a zipper, weaving one car from the left, one from the right, one from the left, and so on, which allows traffic to merge more safely and with less reduction in speed.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a video that demonstrates the zipper merge technique pretty well: https://youtu.be/ZcPby71TNC0. Not the most exciting movie you’ll see all year because there are no car crashes, but that’s sort of the point: it’s the safest merging method—and it also gets you where you’re going faster.
Some cities have even installed automated traffic signals at merge points for major highways that weave cars together, so no traffic builds up in either direction. It works.
You have to do your part
Zipper merging requires constant awareness of the traffic around you and clear communication with other drivers. You can’t exactly talk to other drivers on the road, but there are ways to communicate:
- Use your turn signals. Properly timed, this is the most powerful communication tool you have in merging situations. Use them strategically and meaningfully.
- Watch the movements of vehicles in the lane you’re merging with. If someone is slowing to open a space for you, respond to it by accelerating slightly. Make brief eye contact with other driver, if possible. This means they are watching you and ready to work with you. Watch for them to respond to your intentions with their steering, braking, and acceleration. Make your intentions clear before fully committing to a maneuver and watch how the drivers around you respond. Adjust accordingly.
- Drive deliberately. If the driver merging next to you is speeding up, send a clear signal that you’ll make room for them ahead. If they slow down, make a measured-but-obvious move to take the front position while merging. Adjust according to the other driver’s reactions.
Treat merging as a sort of “dance” you do in your car. This forces you to be completely tuned in to the movements of the cars around you, which is how driving should work, all the time.
Okay, maybe we do have a new dance craze. That would be cool, if everyone started doing it.