Official merging advice surprises Road Warrior

The in basket: Don Payne, in an e-mail on another subject, happened to point out a section of the state Driver’s Guide on page 75 in the current version headed “Space to Merge.”

It reads, in part, “You need a four-second

gap whenever you change lanes, enter a roadway, or when

your lane merges with another travel lane.

“• Do not try to merge into a gap that is too small. A small

gap can quickly become even smaller. Enter a gap that

gives you enough space cushion to be safe.

“• If you want to move over several lanes, take them one at

a time. Like going up or down stairs one step at a time,

it is safest and easiest to merge one lane at a time.”

I was surprised and alarmed by those bullet points. 

The first seems to advocate stopping or slowing sharply on a freeway on-ramp if you don’t think you see a four-second gap in traffic. That’s an invitation to getting rear-ended, I think.

The second runs counter to my experience, which is that you often are closely following a car after your first lane change, while you look back for traffic in the next lane, another set-up for a rear-ender if the car ahead stops or slows. 

In places like the move across two lanes in Gorst to get into the lane to Port Orchard, and the I-5 weave to reach Highway 16 going toward the Narrows Bridge (now being eliminated by a major construction job), I have found it much safer to check both lanes for traffic and move across both in one motion if traffic allows.

I asked the Department of Licensing, State Patrol and State Traffic Safety office if that is really their position.

The out basket: They let Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton WSP detachment reply for all of them.

“Our state’s traffic safety agencies all stand behind the advice you inquired about from the Washington State Driver’s Guide,” Krista wrote.

 “As a law enforcement officer, I do agree with the advice given regarding space to merge. 

“Yes, if a driver stops on a ramp while trying to merge there is always a hazard of being involved in a rear-end collision.  Fortunately, this does not happen often as most drivers who are merging – as well as those already on the highway – typically speed up or slow down accordingly to allow others to merge in.  The majority of drivers are courteous and I regularly see drivers already on the highway moving over to the left to allow the others space to merge in. 

 “Yes, each lane change should be done as the guide refers to as stair steps.  Moving across more than one lane of traffic is considered a lane travel violation (or unsafe lane change) and carries a penalty of $124.  

“The key is to move into a lane, establish yourself in that lane, and then safely move over to the desired lane.  I have seen more collisions caused by drivers quickly moving across more than one lane at a time.”    

State law requires signaling for 100 feet before changing lanes, so I guess that would constitute “establishing yourself in a lane.”

I asked about multiple lane changes years ago, long before Krista became WSP spokeswoman, and the local office wasn’t able to decide whether my way was legal or not. 

It’s good to have a definitive answer, even though it’s not what I have been doing and I will feel more in peril doing it their way.

6 thoughts on “Official merging advice surprises Road Warrior

  1. “…signaling for 10 feet before changing lanes.” Hahhahaha. That’s a good one. I’ve driven behind BPD cars that don’t signal when they’re just out cruising, but then I notice they’re on their cell phones. No doubt always on official business.

  2. I learned in Traffic Safety back in the dark ages to only change lanes when you could see the entire front end of the car behind/beside you. It’s served me in good stead over the years.

    I almost got nailed in North Dakota on a wide open freeway by the only other car in sight, who merged two lanes from an on ramp and never saw me in the fast lane. When I saw him coming down the on ramp, I moved over instead of slowing down. He ended up about 6 inches off my front bumper at 70+ MPH, with me jamming on the brakes. Thank God for anti-lock brakes because we probably would have died without them.

  3. I am alarmed that anyone would believe it a good idea to change more than one lane at a time. If we are supposed to leave a two second gap in following another vehicle, waiting for a four second gap to merge or to change lanes makes sense. That way, I have a two second gap ahead of me and the driver behind me does too.

    If traffic allows, I try to move over to make room for others entering the freeway. If I can not move over, I maintain a constant speed so that the entering drivers can judge where I will be.

  4. The advice offered by the WSP/DOL is very poor and dangerous. I am a commercial driver and am on the road 60 hours a week. I see, daily, drivers merge into 60+ mph traffic at 40-45 or even slower. I have seen many accidents caused when drivers slow or stop at the merge point and even more accidents caused by the freeway-speed traffic having to evade the oblivious, slowpoke mergers.
    As a trucker I frequently (read this as many times a day) have to hammer my brakes to avoid these idiots who cannot seem to grasp the concept of using the acceleration lane to match the speed of traffic and smoothly enter the flow. When I have to slow radically to avoid a collision it takes me a long time to get back up to speed, unfairly impacting all the traffic behind me. That the WSP encourages such dangerous, irresponsible, and plain rude driving practices is ludricous at best.
    I think they need to go back to drivers’ Ed!

  5. Oh, and if you happen to be tailgating the car in front of you when entering the freeway, not only are you endangering the occupants in that vehicle, but those on the freeway as well — especially if trafffic is tight.

    Of course, traffic laws may not apply to you.

  6. I have see drivers trying to merge on to the freeway at 15 to 20 mph slower than the traffic already on the highway so many times here in Kitsap that I’ve come to assume they were told that it was the propper way to do it. At a busy on ramp like Sedgwick to 16 south (yes I said south), mid day, you’ll see this. The lead car of several will be merging at a much slower speed than the traffic. All the cars behind the lead car are now commited to do the same with the existing highway traffic now bunched up behind the first car. Travis, you say you haven’t noticed this much, perhaps you are often that lead car.

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