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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rules of the ramp

I sometimes enter freeways at too-slow of a speed.  At those times, I’m following a vehicle whose driver is not taking advantage of a lengthy access ramp that allows drivers to attain freeway speed prior to merging.

And I’m not alone.  I’ve ridden with Washington State Patrol Troopers needlessly restrained behind freeway-entering vehicles operated by drivers unwilling to accelerate on the ramps.  Those Troopers always expressed wonderment regarding such behavior.  Comments such as, “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.”

The inverse is a nuisance too when drivers slow way down on the freeway prior to exiting on the ramp.  The proper way to exit is to keep a steady speed until you exit, as most off ramps supply ample space to slow down before needing to stop. 

Again, the Driver Guide offers a procedure for exiting 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 see plenty of improper ramp driving locally and during road trips where the timing of drivers’ merges is questionable.  Besides coming up the ramp at varying speeds, too-few drivers time their merges properly.  Seemingly, 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.  Even during light traffic in the middle of “nowhere,” drivers will poorly time their 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 is unnecessary when merges are 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.  Too often, vehicles catch me as I maintain a steady speed, then follow me closely without passing or pass then slow down.  After that, my steady speed causes me to catch and pass them again — later, they then catch me again and start the cycle all over.  Sometimes, the only way to be rid of them is to pull off of the road — a recommended solution.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.