Skip to content

Why “Zipper Merges” Are a Bad Idea

Why “Zipper Merges” Are a Bad IdeaUp until recently, drivers in Illinois did not have to worry about taking turns in order to get through traffic along with other drivers. In February 2020, however, the “zipper merge” officially became part of the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook and is being actively used here in Chicago and throughout the state. While it seems like some are happy with this addition, some merges are causing accidents – and even road rage. Why?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over five million police-reported car crashes in 2020 alone with over 35,000 being fatal. Further, some form of aggressive driving was a factor in 56% of those fatal crashes.

Although there isn’t too much research on aggressive driving and road rage, a survey from road experts AAA reports, “nearly 9 in 10 respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a ‘somewhat’ or ‘very serious’ threat to their personal safety.”

Experts say that zipper merges allow a large number of cars to quickly get through construction sites or highway entrances when there is a lane closure—but are they actually the safest?

How do Chicago zipper merges work?

Zipper merges are used when there is at least one obstructed lane and drivers must take turns entering the open lane – think zipper. First, one car merges from the closed lane, then the following car from the open lane can pass, then another car from the closed lane will merge, and the following car from the open lane will pass, and so on.

While most people are used to early merging by moving over as soon as they spot a lane closure, a zipper merge encourages drivers to wait until the last minute to enter the non-obstructed lane. These types of merges are often used in heavy traffic zones, and some people say this type of merge creates more harm than good.

Zipper merges are igniting road rage

Imagine you are patiently waiting to get through congestion or rush-hour traffic in an open lane. Now, imagine that not one, but two, three or more cars speed by you and go right up until their lane ends to merge into yours. You have been stuck in this lane for a while, but they felt entitled enough to pass you and everyone else who have been diligently waiting.

That cannot be fair, right? Well, technically it is, according to the clause in the Illinois Rules of the Road handbook. It may sound a little far-fetched, but this was the very real story of a Michigan family who correctly followed the correct zipper merge rules by waiting to merge until their lane ended. The other driver would not let them into his lane, but once the driver managed to squeeze in, the other driver expressed his anger and frustration by honking the horn and driving only inches away from their bumper for about 20 miles.

Is there a flaw in the system?

In 2019, the NHTSA did another study looking into the causes of traffic accidents. It was found that 574,000 accidents were caused by merging or changing lanes. Of those crashes, 90,000 of them led to injuries and 785 were fatal. While lawmakers want motorists to understand that this type of merge only works if everyone works together, some drivers believe that zipper merges are simply a race to the finish line.

Whether they are late for work, had a bad day, or truly believe they are in the right, drivers will always find a reason to not follow the rules to a tee; there is just no way to accurately and effectively make every single driver properly maneuver a zipper merge.

How to safely merge with another lane on any Chicago roadway

There are other types of merges that you will likely see on the road if you travel enough in the Chicago area. A slip lane merge is when there is a standard highway and a separate lane that is joining the highway, almost like an on-ramp. However, the slip lane will end and require its drivers to speed up to the highway rate of travel in order to merge onto the highway.

In an early merge, one lane maintains a higher priority over the other. In this instance, the drivers of the non-priority lane should merge with the other at the first chance they get. But no matter how drivers are required to merge, keep in mind that safety on the roads is almost always up to the drivers to maintain.

In the event of a road closure or a lane ending, remember these tips when confronting a merge:

  • Use your signal early so other drivers are not caught off guard by you squeezing into their lane.
  • Check your blind spot to ensure you will not accidentally collide with another vehicle.
  • Adjust your speed to other drivers on the road so you are flowing with traffic.
  • Do not come to a complete stop in the merge lane. This type of hesitation can cause confusion for you and other drivers, which can lead to an accident.
  • Merge only when it is safe to do so. Make sure you are not forcibly entering another lane and putting yourself or others at risk.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident while merging, you could be eligible for compensation. The Chicago attorneys at Gainsberg Law, P.C. are here to help when you feel like you have nowhere to turn. Call our office at 312-600-9585, or complete our contact form today to schedule a free consultation.