What is the Zipper Maneuver?

Let’s all do our part to make highway travel as painless as possible.

byPeter Nelson| PUBLISHED Jan 23, 2023 6:30 AM
What is the Zipper Maneuver?
Peter Nelson

In the vast sea of know-how you need to properly operate an automobile, there's one concept that's the gold standard of efficient and courteous motoring. However, beware ye landlubbers, these seas are feisty and cruel—not everyone utilizes it when the time is right. Naturally, I'm talking about the zipper maneuver, also known as the zipper merge.

Here's what the zipper maneuver is, why it's the best choice for executing a painless, efficient merge, and why we should all do our part to utilize it. Seriously, do this and stop cutting folks off, as they're doing it right and you aren't.

Why Is It Called the Zipper Maneuver?

Basically, the concept mimics how a zipper attached to a piece of clothing functions. Think of each tooth in a jacket's zipper as cars moving along in two lanes of traffic, an A lane and a B lane, heading in the same direction. The middle piece that ties them together is the reason why they'd join together, such as a lane that's closed for construction, or a traffic incident.

When the reason to merge together arrives, the cars take turns one after the other merging into one lane of traffic. The cars in the lane that's about to close, or end, which we'll say is A lane, seamlessly take turns joining the free-flowing B lane. Again, one car at a time. One A car enters space between two B cars, then another A car joins, and so on.

It might seem like they're merging at the last possible moment to skip the line, but it truly is the most efficient way. Early merges are best for light traffic, whereas late, smooth, zipper merges are best for heavy traffic. Also, one car at a time. Don't be a butt.

Adobe Free Stock - Alexandre Rotenberg

Where Does the Zipper Maneuver Apply?

It applies as much as possible. Think of it: streets converging on a one-way around a town square, joining another lane when yours is shut down or ends, two on-ramp lanes merging into one onto a highway, whenever.

What Makes the Zipper Maneuver So Efficient and Courteous?

Without digging too deep into morality, and potentially engaging in discussions that mimic a sociology or philosophy university course, it's just a nice thing to do. It's also an opportunity to do good for humanity—hey everybody, let's give each other a little room to make this scenario as easy and pain-free as possible for everyone.

Various studies say it's the best method, too. The key, however, is to merge as smoothly and as late as possible, which seems a bit counter-intuitive. But, if everyone maintains space and a reasonable speed, it's not much of an issue.

This brings up an important point—efficiency weighs heavily on everyone being courteous, giving each other enough space, and maintaining a safe yet reasonable speed. If any piece of this equation is lacking, efficiency drops, and anger increases.

Merging too early is less efficient, too. I know, it seems weird, especially for those of us who look as far ahead as possible while on the road.

Be Nice, Utilize the Zipper Maneuver

In fact, people who are simply buttheads and often refuse to let folks merge in front of them, in any scenario, are usually the worst of all the apples. Just chill out, give fellow motorists a little space, and continue on with your day. You know, the greater good and all that stuff.

Would you rather lose a few seconds, or have karma someday, somehow, pour sugar in your car's gas tank? Karma works in mysterious ways.

… I'm kidding. But seriously, don't be awful, let the zipper commence.

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