Zipper merging has drivers divided

Construction season is here and you’re most likely driving around a lot of orange barrels and signs.

When it comes to driving through construction, there are many rules in place that are meant to keep people safe.

But one of those rules has people divided.

Zipper merging is a term many people aren’t familiar with.

It happens when a lane is closed in a construction zone, drivers then use both lanes of traffic until reaching the defined merge area and then take turns merging into one lane in a zipper like fashion.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, merging too soon is actually more dangerous.

Travis Mayer, owner of Enhanced Driving Institute in Onalaska, has been giving lessons on driving for nearly three years.

But there’s one lesson in particular that seems to shock his students…

“It’s not known as well as it should be.”

A lesson in zipper merging has light bulbs going off.

“So typically when you see a sign that says merge, most people right when they see it, they slow down and then they try to get over right away and that slows down their lane and the lane they’re trying to get into slows down so like a mile away from where you have to merge, traffic gets really congested,” Mayer.

Contrary to what many people might think, Mayer says merging into a lane too soon actually does more harm than good.

He says when drivers see a ‘lane closed ahead’ sign in a work zone, drivers should use both lanes until they reach the defined merge area.

“And then just like a zipper, then one car gets in, in front of the one car, that car goes, the next car gets in, so it closes just like a zipper.”

Although zipper merging is more popular in bigger cities, it seems to make sense for some drivers in La Crosse.

“Initially I thought well what are these people doing? You know just because it’s like wait your turn but obviously by one lane going in and then the next just taking turns, things seem to move smoothly,” said Corey Peterson, a driver.

But still, other drivers believe it is safer to merge as soon as possible.

“We live in a me first society so most people are not going to just automatically let you in, they’re going to try and get of you, so most people are going to be worried about being in an accident.”

Mayer says whether you’re with zipper merging or against it, it all comes down to safety.

“Make sure you do it safe, make sure you turn your blinker on in plenty of time, just don’t look at your mirrors, check your shoulder and a nice gradual move over and we’ll all be safe out on the roads.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that there are times when you shouldn’t zipper merge.

Mayer says when traffic is moving at highways speeds and there are no backups, that’s when it would make most sense to merger sooner to the lane that’ll stay open through construction.

According to MnDOT, zipper merging causes a sense of fairness that all lanes are moving at the same rate.