Dear Street Smarts,
Q: Could you tell me what is the proper procedure for merging into traffic? Heading south, I get on the freeway at Morrissey Boulevard, which starts out with three lanes, but goes back to two lanes before the Soquel Avenue exit.
When my third lane ends, I wait, with my directional on and my hand out the window, to move into the next lane. Cars behind me keep going onward because there is still a limited amount of room on the road for two cars even though there is only one lane. The car will zip pass six or seven cars and then force someone to let them in their lane to avoid an accident. Isn’t this considered a shoulder and therefore can only legally be used for emergency stops?
I see so many cars doing this that I’m wondering if my thinking is wrong. Am I impeding traffic by waiting at the end of my lane when it ends?
Elana Ross, via email
A: When I merge, I try to match the speed of freeway traffic and look for a gap I can easily squeeze into. When traffic is stopped, I was taught you merge into freeway traffic as if you were sewing a garment or a zipping a zipper — one oncoming car inserts in between two consecutive cars occupying that right-most lane.
In seeking to provide you with accurate information, I consulted the expertise of the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
First, CHP Officer Grant Boles advised against stopping in the merge lane while merging, especially if vehicles in on the highway are traveling at freeway speeds of 65-70 mph, he said. This can be dangerous, he added.
Take a look at the DMV’s website, particularly http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/merg_pass.htm, “Merging In and Out of Traffic.” This link to the California Driver Handbook explains the rules of merging.
For example, the section tells motorists that freeway traffic has the right-of-way and that drivers should enter the freeway at the speed of traffic, as well as make sure there is space, preferably a four second gap between vehicles already on the freeway, to merge into traffic.
Other tips from the DMV include:
- Do not stop before merging into freeway traffic unless absolutely necessary.
- Do not try to squeeze into a gap that is too small. You — and the vehicle behind you – need space to stop safely if necessary.
- Watch for vehicles around you using your mirrors and by quickly turning your head to peak over your shoulder before changing lanes.
- Use your turn signal.
- If you need to cross several freeway lanes, cross them one at a time. Waiting until all lanes are clear can cause congestion or a collision.
Meanwhile, in regard to your question about drivers using the shoulder to pass you up and merge with freeway traffic further down the road, that’s illegal, Boles said.
“Motorists may not use the shoulder to pass or merge and this would be a good time to remind motorists of the recent CHP deaths when motorists were passing on the shoulder unlawfully,” he said.