Mastering the MergeJanuary 3, 2011 | in Defensive Driving Online
Years back, a timid friend of mine went for her first driving lesson. Unlike many of us, who had been practicing with our parents, she had never actually driven a car before. Needless to say, she was terrified simply by sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car.
Unfortunately, her instructor subscribed to an old-school “sink or swim” theory of driving pedagogy. As my friend hesitantly drove down a local road at a rocking 20 MPH, her instructor told her to take the highway entrance ramp on her right. She was shocked, but her instructor insisted. And so, shaking and on the verge of tears, she crept nervously down the entrance ramp with her red-faced instructor shouting “pedal to the metal! Pedal to the metal!” Instead of heeding his advice, my friend stopped at the end of the entrance ramp and stubbornly waited until the flow of traffic on the highway had all but ceased. Fortunately, it wasn’t rush hour.
There are, however, better ways to make a merge. This is one of the trickiest and most dangerous basic driving maneuvers, so it’s worth taking a moment to review the basic steps to making a good merge.
The goal of merging is to integrate seamlessly into a stream of traffic. This means that, in order to merge, you will have to accelerate until, ideally, your speed matches the speed of traffic on the highway. Merging requires that you look behind you, to the side, and in front of you. As a result, it demands a great deal of concentration. Focus, focus, focus and don’t let passengers or angry driver’s ed teachers distract you!
Before you begin accelerating, look for gaps in the stream of traffic in the lane into which you’ll be merging. Try to gauge the speed of the oncoming cars in order to identify a gap that you can fit into easily. You don’t want to reach full speed and then realize you have nowhere to go.
Once you’ve identified a gap, turn on your blinker to indicate your intent to merge and begin to accelerate. Notice that access ramps end in an “acceleration lane” and that, at first, this lane is separated from the highway by a solid white or yellow line. This line serves as a good indicator for where you should begin and end your acceleration. Use the acceleration space provided; don’t cross the solid line, as this could confuse other drivers on the highway, resulting in a collision.
As you accelerate, however, make sure to keep a safe distance between your car and the car in front of you on the entrance ramp. Always expect the unexpected! If a car ahead of you suddenly stops or slows down, you want to make sure that you have time to react. When you’ve reached the “gap” that you’ve identified, move into the empty space. Be careful not to slow down right before you integrate into the new lane; this is a common and dangerous error!
Once you’ve succeeded in merging into the lane, acclimate to the new flow of traffic. Try not to slow down the other cars in the lane or tailgate those ahead of you. If you’re entering a road via an unfamiliar access point, pay particularly close attention to the signs and markings. If you see a “no merge” sign, you’ll have to stop and yield to oncoming traffic instead of merging.
As always, be patient, pay attention, and respect the rules of the road! With practice, you’ll be able to merge safely and without suffering a major panic attack.
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