I’ve often entered freeways at less-than-advisable speeds. That’s because, at those times, I’m following a vehicle whose driver is not taking advantage of the lengthy access ramps designed to allow freeway speed prior to merging.
I’m not alone in this dilemma. I’ve ridden with Washington State Patrol Troopers needlessly restrained behind freeway-entering vehicles operated by drivers unwilling to accelerate on the ramps. In most of those cases, Troopers expressed some degree of wonderment regarding those leisurely drivers. Comments akin to, “I wonder why they don’t use the ramp to get up to speed; that’s what it’s for,” are typical.
Indeed, an excerpt from the Washington Driver Guide reads, “When you merge with traffic, signal and enter at the same speed that traffic is moving. High-speed roadways generally have ramps to give you time to build up your speed for merging into traffic.”
Reader D.C. has the same gripe in reverse. He expressed his issue with drivers exiting the freeway by writing, “Read you column often and have not seen this driving issue addressed. When driving on a freeway many people who are going to exit on the next off ramp will start slowing down a half a mile or more before the exit. The proper way to exit is keep a steady speed until you exit. Most off ramps give people ample time to slow down before needing to stop. When you slow down way too early you force people behind to move into the left lane with faster moving traffic creating a jam in the left lane.”
D.C.’s concerns are warranted, and his “proper way to exit” is spot on. He is also correct in stating that most ramps are designed to let drivers exit at the speed they are travelling with ample space to allow slowing down for subsequent curves or stops.
Again, the Driver Guide offers a sensible procedure for leaving traffic. It suggests, “Keep up with the speed of traffic as long as you are on the main road. If the road you are traveling has exit ramps, do not slow down until you move onto the exit ramp.” If you are slowing down on freeways before taking exits, you are doing it wrong.
I saw plenty of improper ramp driving on my last road trip, where the timing of drivers’ merges was often questionable. Besides coming up the ramp at varying speeds, too few drivers time their merges properly. It seems that many of them don’t even check freeway traffic until the moment of their merge.
With a bit of vigilance and effort, it’s easy to adjust one’s speed and timing to enter the freeway just ahead of or just behind vehicles already there. Often, even during light traffic in the middle of “nowhere,” drivers will poorly time a merge, forcing other drivers to change lanes to accommodate their entrance.
I’m always willing to move from the right to the left lane (if traffic allows) to allow a merge from the right. But that maneuver would often be unnecessary if merges were properly timed. In terms of safety and flow, traffic is less affected when the mergers take it upon themselves to enter in such a way that no one has to change lanes, slow down, or speed up for them.
Practice checking out the speed and density of traffic on the freeway while making your way up the ramp; then, you’ll be able to time your merge to least impact others. Besides sometimes being impossible for freeway drivers to change lanes, it is not legally incumbent upon them to yield right of way to mergers. Officially, it is the mergers who must yield to traffic already traveling upon the freeway.
Also, it’s important to maintain a steady speed once on the road. Often, on my road trip, a vehicle would catch me as I maintained a steady speed. Next, they would not pass, or pass then slow down. Then I would catch and pass them again; of course they would then catch me and start the cycle all over. The only way to be rid of them was to pull off of the road!
Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.