Tag Archives: Driver’s Guide

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.