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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Another look at merging

I see so many faulty merges to freeways that I’m compelled to write of the process again.

Firstly, it’s the duty of the entering vehicle to yield to existing traffic.  Sure, a cooperative effort from both merger and mergee helps, but it’s up to the merger to adjust speed and timing to blend into a niche among the vehicles already there seamlessly.  Stopping at the end of the ramp is seldom necessary if proper skill is applied.

Rules of the road are fairly congruous throughout the United States, and I suspect all states place the yield requirement upon the drivers of vehicles entering the freeway — like other unmarked yield situations.  State erected YIELD signs at the top of some ramps eliminate the mystery, but the absence of such signage does not imply there is no responsibility to yield.

For certain, law enforcement, driving instructors and state driver guides suggest that freeway traffic move to the left when it can be safely done (no vehicle in left lane) to accommodate a pending merge from the right, but it is not a legal requirement.

Combining law and common sense, successful freeway merges ideally result from the cooperative efforts by drivers involved.  The goal is for entering drivers to signal and enter at the same speed that traffic is moving — ramps exist to give you time to build up that speed.  If you stop at the end of a ramp you won’t have ample room to attain proper merge speed and you might get hit by vehicles behind you on the ramp.  If it appears there is not an immediate opening and cars on the freeway have not or cannot move to their left, then slow down mid-ramp so you will have some acceleration room before the entrance point.

Driving too slow on the ramp for no apparent reason aggravates other drivers.

And back to the subject of YIELD signs at the ends of entrance ramps: I implied earlier and have often noticed that their placement sporadic at best.  I’ve noted that many entrance ramps in Washington and Idaho lack YIELD signs at the merge point of freeway ramps.  According to Washington Department of Transportation engineers, signs are located mainly on the shorter ramps because of the imminent contact with freeway traffic at those locations. Nevertheless, a merging driver never has an “automatic” right to a lane already occupied by another.  The Washington Driver guide specifies, “…you must check for traffic to the side and behind your vehicle before you change lanes.  Changing lanes includes:  changing lanes from one lane to another and merging onto a roadway from an entrance ramp.”

To summarize, drivers who ascend ramps with virtual blinders on, not checking for eventual spots in traffic until they reach the top of the ramp then bully their way in are not doing it right.  With a bit of observance and planning, merges can generally be accomplished with skillful adjustment of speed and timing.  If you look closely enough on the trip up the ramp, you will also see if it’s possible for an approaching car to move to the left — if they can they often will.

The key is knowing that legally it’s the merger’s duty to yield.  Drivers must adhere to laws, even when signs are not present.  It pays to practice judgement of speed and distance while driving — and paying attention to the maneuver of merging.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at