How to Merge Safely on a Highway

how to properly merge on a highway
The best way to merge when traffic is congested.

Safe highway merging requires the proper mix of cooperation and courtesy between drivers. After all, it’s all about sharing space.

Quick – take a glance at your clothing and you’ll likely see the best analogy for merging… the zipper (it’s also one of the greatest Canadian inventions, too, eh?). For the zipper to work properly, opposing teeth must alternate smoothly. In high traffic scenarios in which two lanes reduce to one lane, for example, merging works much the same.

Just like depicted in the image, the merging cars and those continuing straight ahead take turns moving into the single lane. A “lane ends” sign marks the spot where this dance should happen.

Not all merging situations are the same, however. Entering a highway can be a bit more complicated because merging is done at higher speeds and drivers have to be more aware of surrounding vehicles. There can be a lot going on at once. We recommend breaking the process down by following these five steps for safe highway merging:

Step 1: Accelerate to match the speed of highway traffic as you travel on ramp.
Step 2: Be aware of your surroundings by checking mirrors and blind spots.
Step 3: Flick your blinker signal on to let other drivers know you plan to shift lanes.
Step 4: Speed up or slow down slightly if a vehicle is right beside you, positioning your vehicle to enter an open space.
Step 5: Merge gradually into the neighbouring lane by following the path of the merging ramp.
Bonus Step (optional): Give a friendly “thank you” wave to the driver who gave you space to help you merge safely.

Voila – now you’re cruising the highway.

On the other hand (er, lane), vehicles already travelling the highway should help merging vehicles by offering space and changing lanes when it’s safe to do so. If it’s not safe to change lanes, adjust your speed to create space ahead or behind you.

Hopefully this blog encourages everyone to move in the same direction safely and smoothly. Let’s work together for safe merging.

Page 1 of 53 comments on “How to Merge Safely on a Highway”

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  1. I have a concern/question. I was pulled over by a police officer for accelerating while trying to merge into the right lane. There were no openings in the right lane near me and so I accelerated up a few cars to get to a spot a head. Yes I did end up going 30 kms over the limit but it was in need to get off the highway and to merge safely in to the right lane and then move off the highway via the next exit. Can I dispute the charge or am I paying the bill? Any advice would be helpful.

    Reply
    • Hi Natalie,

      Unfortunately, we are not in a position to comment on this scenario. While we are responsible for creating the laws in effect on BC Highways, the BC RCMP are responsible for enforcing those laws. We can say that (and this is in line with our Keep Right – Let Others Pass legislation) if you practice travelling primarily in the right lane while on the highway instead of the left, you would be in an better position to make a quick exit if you needed to. Hope that this helps!

      Reply
  2. “MERGE” ONTO THE HIGHWAY

    Your definition of how a motor vehicle enters via an on-ramp and “Merge” with highway traffic must be peculiar to BC (only). In any other jurisdiction, in which I have driven, the responsibility to merge rests solely upon the driver entering from the on-ramp (see this website as an example, in particular point #2):

    http://www.wikihow.com/Merge-Onto-the-Highway-Without-Crashing

    I have always believed that a highway is meant to provide an orderly, forward flow of traffic. Vehicles entering via an on-ramp should merge, as traffic permits; without impeding the forward flow of existing highway traffic.

    With the method of “Merging”, presently in place in BC. every time a highway traveller reaches an on-ramp, they are expected to either slow down, speed up or move into the passing lane (during a trip, you can multiply this situation by the number of on-ramps that will be encountered: 10, 20, 30 or ??). Any driver who increases or decreases speed directly affects all of the vehicles behind them and their orderly forward flow is affected. Moving into the passing lane carries its own concerns, as many times, that lane is already occupied.

    Many on-coming drivers expect your vehicle to make make way for them via one of these aforementioned changes; so that they can enter the highway. Woe betide any highway driver who thinks that the on-coming driver will adjust their speed to allow for an orderly access to the highway.

    I’m sure that many accidents have been caused by these rules and, when BC drivers travel to other jurisdictions, they will not find the same “Merge” standard exist. Consequently, their safety could be in jeopardy. Consider a trip to Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto or any other large metropolis.

    I would strongly urge your department to review the steps put forward in the above attachment and bring our highway rules in-line other jurisdiction within North America.

    Reply
      • Thanks very much. I look forward to hearing their words of wisdom.

        I’m sure that this could reduce some of the accidents on our highways too.

        Reply
    • Hello again Ted,

      BC drivers are trained and licensed by ICBC who outlines the rules of the road in their driver manual: http://www.icbc.com/driver-licensing/driving-guides/Pages/Learn-to-Drive-Smart.aspx

      In this guide, merging is explained this way : “If you’re driving in a lane that ends ahead, you need to change
      lanes. Adjust your speed, keeping within the speed limit, and wait for a safe gap in the other lane.”

      It also says: “When you are driving in the right lane of a freeway, other drivers may try to merge from an entrance lane. It’s not always easy for them to find a safe gap. Use these pointers to help them merge safely:
      pull over into the left lane (if it’s safe) to give them room to merge onto the freeway
      adjust your speed to allow a large enough gap for them to move safely into.”

      So, as in all driving, be it in the U.S. or Canada, merging requires all drivers to be aware of surrounding traffic and make adjustments to allow for the zipper like merging required. Many other areas across the U.S. encourage the zipper merge to allow the forward flow of traffic. (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/zippermerge/index.html)

      Reply
      • In our area, we have way too many right lanes that end abruptly but people still line up in them and then all that traffic begins pushing into the left through-lane. The operative word in the ICBC guide explanation is “wait”, as in “If you are driving in a lane that ends ahead, you need to change lanes, adjust your speed to keep within the speed limit, and “WAIT” for a safe gap in the other lane.” Yes it also says, that the through- laners should be aware and try to accommodate the mergers, but to stop to let them in is really what the mergers expect. I have seen them try to force the left through-lane traffic to stop…..and it is in this situation that you have created the problem. I have yet to see a right lane merger stop and wait for a gap in traffic. There needs to be explicit signs and more explicit driving rules. Let’s make sure the new drivers know the rules. Zipper merging is great when you have two long lines of very slow moving traffic with another lane merging into the through-lane, but this will not work when the slow merging lane is trying to merge into the fast moving through-lane. This where WAIT becomes the operative word.

        Reply
        • Hello and thank you for your comment. We spoke with our traffic engineers about your comment and here is what they had to say. Hope this helps!

          The example in our blog is for rural or freeway type merging where you match the speed of traffic and enter. Typically there is an adjacent fast lane where drivers can be courteous and move over to allow the merge to happen safely. This happens on Lane drops (end of a passing or climbing lane) as well as in an entrance ramp. Also, this is the condition described in Learning to Drive Smart which you quoted.

          In the urban environment, drivers who are using the right turn only lane as a thru lane for as long as possible are doing two things wrong, both of which are clearly signed. First there will be an overhead or shoulder mount R-082 Lane Control sign (which is regulatory and enforceable) showing that the lane is for right turn movements only. Secondly, for some distance upstream of the intersection the right turn lane will be marked with a solid white line. Section 151 of the Motor Vehicle Act, Driving on laned roadway, prohibits the changing from one lane to another lane if the “action necessitates crossing a solid line”. Therefore, a driver who decides to decides to late merge out of a right turn lane is contradicting two traffic control devices. The correct movement for that driver is to complete the right turn and find a safe route back to their direction of choice.

          Courtesy should be exercised for the driver in the through lane who is presented with a vehicle pushing into their lane. Right of way is something that is given, not taken, on a roadway and this leads to courteous and safe driving. However, as quoted from Chapter 4 of Learn to Drive Smart, “you can’t always count on the other person to follow the rules. And even if you have the right-of-way, it’s still your responsibility to do all you can to avoid a crash.”

          Reply
  3. Hi there,

    Good news on the “Merge Like a Zipper” signs. Our traffic engineering department has confirmed that the intent is to use this sign around the province to 1) provide good information on driving practices, and 2) in locations where merging has shown to be an issue.

    Estimated launch of this initiative is early summer. Hope this helps!

    Reply