how do normal people enter the freeway?
March 21, 2012 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone please explain to me how to enter the highway without mentally writing my last will and testament? It terrifies me and I feel I endanger other people, too.

OK so I have been driving for 3 years. I have done several long trips and always thought I would get better at it, but no. I have tiny panic attacks whenever I have to enter the highway. I have watched videos on Youtube, asked my husband for advice and I just don't get it. I mean they tell you to accelerate before entering, right? and that you MUST choose a spot before and fall neatly into it. But this is too damn hard for me!

I never break or even go too slow (I think), but there's always a little commotion when I try to do it, because i don't know how to fall into place.

I also freak out when other people are trying to get in and I'm on the right lane. I slow down and start driving like I WANT to have an accident.

I need a full explanation for dummies on how these things are supposed to work.
posted by Tarumba to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, you sound to me like the majority of drivers!

Technically, the people on the on-ramp should be able to reach highway speed and merge perfectly, but practically this is rarely possible. I try to pick a spot basically right behind a car, so that the next car coming up has time to slow down and I have time to speed up before there is a 'commotion'. But really, unless there is no-one on the freeway, entering cars are going to cause other cars to shift around. It's just physics.

Another thought - are you perhaps going faster than the other cars when you try to merge? I can see how that would cause a problem as well.

If you are already on the freeway in the right lane, you have two options: (1) Ignore the people on the on-ramp! Let them work themselves around you! It will be OK - they won't hit you. (2) Merge into the left lane before the on-ramp, let the cars entering sort themselves out, then merge back.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on March 21, 2012

In a perfect world, people traveling in the right hand lane would move over when they approach a merge so you wouldn't have any problems.

In reality, you just have to look for an open spot and try to accelerate to the speed that will let you squeeze into that spot. Ideally, the cars traveling in the right hand lane will be paying attention and get into an appropriate position to give you space.

When traffic is heavy this can be tricky. The key is to make a decision: do I gun it and get in front of the upcoming car and force them to slow down, or do I come to a complete stop and wait for an opening?

The latter is the safest option but if the people behind you aren't paying attention they could rear end you (but that's there fault).

The problem is really that people drive like assholes. I've been driving for nearly 10 years and I still find merging in heavy traffic to be frustrating. On that note, if anyone has better advice I'd love to hear it, but it's kind of a shit show when traffic is heavy and people are jerks.
posted by imagineerit at 12:04 PM on March 21, 2012

I have found that by far the easiest way to enter onto a highway is to do it (assuming a steady flow on the highway you are entering) at a speed higher than that of the traffic you are merging into.

This way, everything is happening in front of you rather than behind you and it is much, much easier to gently brake into a space than accelerate into one. About halfway down the ramp, pick a car that is alongside and a little bit in front of you and drive into the space behind them, gently braking to match their speed when you are close to them and watching over your shoulder for anyone doing anything stupid.

If you are going slower than the traffic you are merging into, it's about 4 times harder.
posted by Brockles at 12:07 PM on March 21, 2012 [20 favorites]

Another suggestion: When you are the passenger in the car while other people are driving, pay attention to how they merge and how they handle other people mergining. When I first started driving, I would just 'check out' as a passenger, but after I got in a car accident I started watching how 'good drivers' manouver. I learned a lot that way (just be careful not to emulate aggressive drivers!)
posted by muddgirl at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

What Brockles said. Get up to near-highway-speed and DO NOT SLOW DOWN while you are on the on-ramp approaching the highway. The person in the right lane behind where your "open space" would be is (hopefully) watching you enter and is anticipating that you will maintain your speed; if you slow down, that person will also have to compensate.
posted by matildaben at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You sound like you know what you're supposed to do, but you lack the nerve. I don't have an answer for that, other than to experiment.

If you are in the righthand lane and someone is entering, you should make sure that there is sufficient space in front and behind you for someone to merge (standard practice of two or three seconds spacing will generally provide this, but many people ignore it). You should NOT slow down unless a collision is virtually upon you; the merger is responsible for slowing down or speeding up. By slowing down, you are messing with their ability to project an insertion point and execute their insertion. MOST drivers will insert properly if you simply set the cruise control (real or virtually-in-your-head) and maintain a steady speed, assuming you have sufficient space in front and behind you. If you don't, you are tying their hands, and expect that they may be forced into an aggressive insertion, because at 50 or 60MPH, options become limited. Don't drive in a manner that causes other drivers to do that sort of thing, but if you do drive like that, don't be shocked when someone forces you to brake.

When you are the one merging, you are expected to accelerate early on the ramp, then judge a space to merge. The ideal space is ahead of any professional driver, like a trucker, as they tend not to do the stupid things that many other drivers might. You may speed up or slow down on the ramp as needed to match both the speed of traffic and line up into your designated spot. Getting this down in practice is hard. Don't feel bad. You're behind the wheel of a big heavy machine. But you absolutely need to get over this, or you are dangerous.

My suggestion would be to pick a freeway that is lightly busy. Find one where there's no traffic in the righthand lane. Pick an insertion point in the MIDDLE lane, like "I want to get in ahead of that truck". With no one in the righthand lane, you make your run, pull in the righthand lane, and see how you are positioned in relation to your truck in the middle lane. You are of no particular danger to anyone while doing this, since you are pulling into an empty lane, and you can feel safe while doing it. Don't be afraid to go back and forth between two onramps as many times as you need to get comfortable. Don't even worry about getting over this in a single day. Just keep practicing. When you can reliably match speed and merge in a safe spot ahead of your selected target, you'll get to a point where you want to try it against actual traffic.
posted by jgreco at 12:15 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

This pushes my buttons too but I've gotten okay at it.

One, it's important to remember the moving traffic has priority and your goal is to adjust to them, not the other way around. Two, it's helpful to put on your turn signal really early, it gives people a chance to see you coming down the ramp and make adjustments by moving to another lane--it seriously helps, and three, you actually usually have a decent sized path in which to make your adjustments and join traffic -- when you're stressed it's easy to feel like you're playing a game of Tetris that's moving too fast but you do have time.

And lastly, there's almost always a wide shoulder in front of you. Worse comes to worse, fail spectacularly, drive in that and merge when you can. Turn signal flashing the whole time.

I think a big thing when driving is "don't do anything weird". Whatever you do, don't stop -- it freaks people out completely.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:16 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My pro-tip would be to really start gauging the traffic just as soon as you can see the lane you're merging into. I mean, when you're just making the turn onto the ramp from the road you departed. Start picking out the two cars you're going to get in between and matching speed with the open space (or the presumptive open space that's going to occur when the guy you've picked out to be in front of slows a hair). A typical on-ramp gives you quite a long distance to do this.

If there's a car in front of you on the ramp, give them a good bit of following distance, because their shenanigans may disrupt your plans a bit. If it's a two-lane ramp, there's supposed to be some extra on-ramp distance (actually a merge within the ramp itself, followed by the merge onto the highway).

Also note that most ramps have a bit more run-off space than it looks like. You don't have to be on the freeway right where the ramp forms the apex with the right lane.

Really heavy traffic is the obvious challenge, but fortunately if it's really bumper-to-bumper it's probably going slower. Also, if the ramp you're on is busy (a lot of people coming on with you), you can take some comfort in the fact that the drivers on the freeway have been seeing cars steadily coming on from the ramp - they're more likely to move over.

Strangely, I find putting on my turn signal really helps. Doesn't seem like it should matter, because, duh, I'm on a ramp that's coming to an end. But signaling seems to wake the drivers around me up to the fact that I'M COMING OVER SOONER OR LATER.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:23 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Traffic rules say that the merging vehicle is the one that must yield the right of way meaning that it is your responsibility to get in the lane safely and the lane to which you are merging does not have to move.

What I do is as soon as I am in a lane that has to merge is survey the right lane and determine whether there is an entry point. If not, I slow in the merge lane - not at the end of the lane. If you stop at the end of the lane you leave yourself no room to reach traffic speed. If I see an entry point I begin speeding up to traffic speed, put on my blinker and position myself to enter the lane at the space I picked out. When I do so I increase my speed so the traffic behind me doesn't have to slow.
posted by JXBeach at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Practice on less-busy roads. Also practice lane-changes, since entering the highway is pretty much the same thing (unless you're on an evil road with a very short merging area).

Also, there's a reasonable expectation that other motorists see you, and will make a little more room if it's obvious that you're about to make a move. This is one of my only exceptions to the "Assume all other drivers are out to kill you" rule.

Oh, and make sure all of your mirrors are properly adjusted for you. I like my side mirrors pointed a lot higher and inward than most other folks do, because it seems to make it easier to gauge the position of other vehicles on the highway. Also, if you're driving with your seat really far back/down, it can also make visibility tough (everyone else in my family does this, and I have no idea how they manage to see anything on the road).
posted by schmod at 12:28 PM on March 21, 2012

Is it at all possible for you to take a driving lesson or two and focus specifically on merging onto the highway? Because I was terrified myself (having originally learned to drive in the middle of nowhere, then having taken a 25-year-hiatus from driving) and my driving teacher gave me lots of good tips about how to do it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:32 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

What Brockles said. Get up to near-highway-speed and DO NOT SLOW DOWN while you are on the on-ramp approaching the highway. The person in the right lane behind where your "open space" would be is (hopefully) watching you enter and is anticipating that you will maintain your speed; if you slow down, that person will also have to compensate.

And we will curse you. I am a very good driver, and even I freaked out the first time I got on the highway (it was like that scene in Clueless). But you just need to practice. Eventually you kind of become As One with the traffic and you seriously won't even think about it. It will be like muscle memory. Freeway driving for me is very Zen (unless no one will let me in, which is when even good freeway drivers start bleating, "LET ME IN.") But just start getting on the freeway and doing it. It's the only way you will get better. Start small -- get on at random times when there's no traffic, like Tuesday at 10pm or Sunday at 6am. It just takes practice, and confidence. You don't want to drive like an asshole, but a timid freeway driver is dangerous. DEFINITELY use your turn signal. If you are nervous about letting people in when you're in the right lane, just don't drive in the right lane until you're close to your off-ramp. In my experience, the slow lane is often full of timid and scared drivers who are all just making things worse for each other inadvertently. The middle lane, on the other hand, gives you options -- if people get crazy in front of you, you can divert yourself in either direction. So once you get onto the freeway, if you don't HAVE to be the right hand lane to change freeways or exit, get over one. If you HAVE to be in the right hand lane, don't worry so much about the people trying to merge. Don't "let someone in" by slowing down a lot, just keep going about your business. They'll get in eventually just thanks to the natural flow of traffic.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:35 PM on March 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh yes, please make sure you are using your turn signal lots and lots. Like I said, I often observe my friend's driving, and it's pretty surprising how much turn signals (consciously or unconsciously) affect the behavior of other drivers.
posted by muddgirl at 12:39 PM on March 21, 2012

Always signal! Signals are the facial expressions of automobiles. Without them, other drivers have a much harder time understanding you. Traffic is a social thing, all the drivers have to depend on each other. Good social graces make everyone's life a bit easier and less stressful.
posted by bonehead at 12:43 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

It terrifies me and I feel I endanger other people, too.

Something occurred to me - not only must you signal, but you must also be completely predictable in your actions to not endanger others. This means no hesitation, no indecision, no changing your mind which hole you are aiming at. Doing something that conflicts with what they want (they may not want to slow for you, but have to to let you in) is much more likely to be safe and/or accommodated than doing something unexpected.

Dithering drivers are by far, BY FAR, the biggest causes of accidents and drama at merges that I have witnessed.

You don't need to be all forceful and gung ho, but do plan really early (as soon as you can see the other traffic but you should already be getting up to speed), indicate, make your intentions clear through road positioning (if you're coming in, come in smoothly and obviously, not too fast, not a gradual sidle into the lane) and then people can read your actions easier and so will allow for any differences they need to adjust for.

Confidence is key. If you portray it in how you drive (smooth, consistent actions and once you commit to a move, stay with it) then people will trust you more and allow for you more. Nothing makes me more edgy than watching someone twitching and weaving slightly as they snatch worried glances over their shoulder at the traffic approaching them like it will eat them.
posted by Brockles at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2012 [10 favorites]

I felt this way for a long time. But I realized that millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of people are merging every day without accidents. No matter how much they curse you, people will almost always let you in if worse comes to worst. I mean you don't want to get an unrealistic sense of invincibility, but statistically, it usually works out.
posted by thebazilist at 1:17 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Typing extemporaneously, and having only skimmed the thread:
- start checking out the lane you want to merge into as soon as possible. In other words, if it is a cloverleaf I generally look off to my left (assumes driving on the right) at about the halfway point to see what traffic in my lane-to-be looks like. Then over my shoulder/use my mirrors several times before I even get to the merge point.
- Signal, signal, signal! Signal early, and signal often. The better you are at communicating what you want, the more likely you are to get it. Kind of like the rest of life.
- Match speed with the lane you want to merge in as quickly as reasonable, so that you have more time to merge.
- I keep an eye out for cars that are signaling they want to move from my lane-to-be and into my current lane. Over the years I've developed pretty good (car) body language about when both of us are prepared to change lanes, and if you both move at the same time (assuming one is ahead and the other behind) you need less space because the lane you will move into will have been recently vacated by the other driver.
- If you can't merge safely, don't. If you have to go around the cloverleaf or block again, that's okay. If you have to momentarily drive on the shoulder for 50 feet that's okay too (but keep an eye out for debris as the shoulder is never as clean as the road). If you have to slow down a little because the other driver isn't letting you in, drive defensively and let them by.
posted by postel's law at 1:21 PM on March 21, 2012

When traffic is heavy this can be tricky. The key is to make a decision: do I gun it and get in front of the upcoming car and force them to slow down, or do I come to a complete stop and wait for an opening?

The latter is the safest option but if the people behind you aren't paying attention they could rear end you (but that's there fault).

What? No. Don't stop. Do signal. Match your speed to that of the traffic in the lane you want to enter, and speed up/slow down slightly to get your car into a hole between cars, and just do it.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:34 PM on March 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Agreed about the whatever-you-do-don't-stop thing. I have only once been a passenger in a car where the driver came to a complete stop at the end of the on-ramp because he didn't feel like he had a space. (It wasn't particularly nasty traffic, the guy was just a bad driver.) It was terrifying! Traffic instantly started honking behind him, a cop started making "WOOP! WOOP!" noises with his siren, and then he had to merge into the same traffic only starting at 0mph instead of at the same speed of the traffic itself.

There is always a space when you move into it. It may not look like it, and in an extreme case (fast, heavy traffic, cars next to you are being jerks and holding ranks instead of letting you in) you may even have to be a little insistent about asking other cars to make a space for you by kind of moving over a little toward the spot where your space needs to be, but this is very rare. If you can convince yourself that there will be a space, and you just find it and smoothly drive up into it with your blinker on, other drivers really will make room for you almost every time.

People know that the cars that are merging in must merge or else get forced off the highway. Even if traffic is heavy and the spaces are small, the car behind your space can see you clearly because you are in front of them and immediately to their right. If you give them time to react by signaling and moving in smoothly and not too quickly, they will move out of the way (slow down) because they know that you are coming in and there's not much that you can do about it besides drive off the road. Try to be coming in at or slightly above the speed of traffic if you can, because then they won't have to slow down as much to open a space for you and they'll be able to do it quickly.

Generally speaking though, there's usually plenty of time and plenty of space to merge. I know it may not feel like that if you have a fear of it, but keep in your mind the fact that literally millions of cars merge onto the highway every day and virtually none of them crash or get driven off the road. Many of these cars are doubtless driven by people who are much worse drivers than you, -- people impaired by alcohol, sleep deprivation, illness, distraction, and just simply incompetent people -- and they still manage it just fine almost every time.

Most of the problem you are having is really a mental one. It sounds like you know what to do, but you're nervous. Other cars can sense your nervousness and react to it by becoming nervous themselves! A nervous car is unpredictable and people are going to have unpredictable reactions to that. If they sense you are calm and predictable, they will react in a calm and predictable fashion.
posted by Scientist at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

> When traffic is heavy this can be tricky. The key is to make a
> decision: do I gun it and get in front of the upcoming car and force
> them to slow down, or do I come to a complete stop and wait for an
> opening?

I've been driving for 30 years. Please don't be this person. There is no reason to stop ever on the oncoming ramp unless traffic is literally bumper to bumper and stopped on the freeway you are merging onto.

When people mention above that it's harder to merge when you are slower than the traffic you are merging with (even it's just a few miles an hour slower) then imagine how much harder it's going to be to merge from a dead stop into traffic going 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 miles an hour.

Signal, signal, signal. Get going slightly faster than the traffic you are merging with. Don't run into the car slightly ahead of you and merge.

Clearly if when you go to merge there's a car in the actual spot you are merging into then you may need to buzz on the shoulder for a little bit but otherwise get in your desired spot.
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:57 PM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I second the suggestions to "pick your spot early." I append that with a few questions. How good is your awareness of your surroundings? How comfortable are you with the dimensions of your vehicle? How quickly can you assess the speed of vehicles around you? How well does your vehicle speed up or slow down?

I've discovered that addressing these four questions are the basic building blocks of highway merging. They are also very intertwined, meaning one aspect can and will affect the other in a complete package that should enable you to merge effectively.

Being aware of your surroundings means you know how much on-ramp you have in front of you, where vehicles are on the road, and the conditions up ahead. You need to know this because you have to assess cars coming up behind you and you can't risk taking your eyes off the road too long; having a long on-ramp means you have a little more time and can double- or triple-check the timing.

You would also need to be aware if traffic up ahead is coming to a slow or a stop. That will affect how cars will adjust their own speeds, and you can predict whether or not you need to do the same. Additionally, if a car in front of you is also trying to merge, how are they doing? Are they slowing down or coming to a stop?

Being comfortable with the dimensions of your vehicle means you intuitively know how much space you need. This helps you assess whether or not you can "squeeze in" given the speed of traffic and the general attitude of other drivers (is the other car letting you merge? is the car in front going faster or slower?). Sometimes drivers will tailgate, so knowing that you can't fit between them lets you look for another spot.

Assessing the speed of vehicles is necessary in gauging whether or not you can find a space to merge into. If there's an opening behind you, but cars are going fast, you'll need to speed up in order to make it otherwise it'll pass you by. If there's an immediate opening, how fast the other drivers are going will determine whether your own vehicle can attain matching speed.

Finally, knowing how fast your own car accelerates is critical. If you see a car coming up fast, how much time is required for you to match speeds? If the opening is coming up, how quickly can you match speeds to slide in? If your car doesn't accelerate very quickly, knowing this will help you decide whether you should that opening and look for another.

My basic steps when merging are as follows:
* Signal. Other drivers may not respect it and try to speed up, but signalling my intentions is still required.
* Look up ahead. Is the other car having difficulty merging? How's the flow of traffic? Adjust my speed if necessary.
* Look in side and rear mirrors. Do I see an immediate opening? Is there an opening further back? Keep that spot in mind.
* Quick glance to the side and back. Anything I missed in the mirrors?
* How fast is everybody going? Can I make that opening I saw earlier?
* Adjust my vehicle's speed to match, going slower or faster as needed.
* Merge into that spot I saw earlier.

It seems like it's a lot, but these are all split-second decisions centered around my awareness of the surroundings, my own vehicle's dimensions, and how fast other people are going. I only have a few glances to take in everything, so I only pay attention to aforementioned details.

A long time ago as a child I watched a Disney short with Goofy, on how to drive on the freeway. It touched on merging, both the right way and the wrong way (though the right way seems to neglect signalling).
posted by CancerMan at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2012

Don't slow down; don't stop. The only time I've ever had near accidents when traffic was merging is when merging drivers don't move with the flow of traffic.

By the time I reach the end of the on-ramp, I'm generally moving faster than traffic. Slowing down to merge is a lot easier than speeding up to merge.

I recommend hiring a driving coach. Your anxiety could kill someone.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a mental thing that you can overcome by preparation and knowing three thrings. One, know what your equipment is capable of. Know what the vehicle you are driving can and will do if you need to rapidly accelerate or decelerate. What kind of pickup do you have? What will your vehicle do if you suddenly jam on the brakes? Get comfortable with the outer edges of your vehicles capabilities. Two, know your own capabilities. It is one thing to know that if you hit the gas the vehicle can accelerate from 30 to 60 in x seconds, it is another to be able to handle the vehicle doing it. Be aware of a 360 degree envelope around your vehicle at all times and what you are capable of doing in an evasive maneuver if suddenly expected to do so. Can you handle if your vehicle fish tails? IF you have to gun it into a small space in front of a larger vehicle? Do you know how to recover from an emergency maneuver? Know your vehicle and know your own capabilities. Three, assume no one else knows what they are doing. Assume nothing and trust no one. Be proactively defensive.

If you have those three things down, getting into a new lane or onto a highway will be second nature.
posted by AugustWest at 2:30 PM on March 21, 2012

Something that has made me a much better driver: remember that other drivers can see you.

Somehow, when I took driver's ed as a teenager, I got it in my head that I had to maneuver around other cars as if they couldn't see me and would never ever be nice to me. This led to such bad habits as waiting to signal until there was space to change lanes or merge. I knew that the rule was you have to signal, I didn't get that signalling was about both alerting and requesting--"Hey, I'm going to move over that way. Can you give me some space?"

Once I learned, as an adult, that it was better to signal as soon as you know you want to move over,* I noticed that changing lanes and merging into traffic got a lot easier. Part of it was just psychological: I no longer thought of it as, "Oh my god I have to find a way to squeeze in with all of these cars and there's no room..." Part of it was a real interaction with other drivers: they saw my signal and the impatient jerks sped ahead and the nice guys slowed/moved to let me in.

So, I'd just encourage you to think about how you treat other drivers. You see them, right? And when they signal, you do your best to let them in, right? Give them the information to do the same for you, and trust that they will.

*I realize that there are places where the driving culture is such that signalling leads people to sort of close ranks and not let you in. I don't know where you live, but I haven't personally experienced this. I have no idea what you should do if you live in one of those areas. Except maybe move.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:53 PM on March 21, 2012 [11 favorites]

Use your signals well in advance of whatever move you're going to make, and you will be fine - the vast majority of the time.

Obviously, follow the other common-sense rules - use your mirrors, use your neck (i.e., head-check your situation), etc.

I just realized, after 10 years of co-driving with her, that my girlfriend doesn't signal until she's got a clear spot to merge into - i.e., until the space she's merging into is empty. To my mind, that's crazy! (I did not tell her that yet.) It totally ups her stress on the highway.


Also, a big confidence-booster will be leaving over-adequate following distance between you and the car in front. Someone else may swoop in to take it up; no big deal, back off and continue as planned. Tailgating is dangerous, and causes more traffic jams - you're doing everyone else a favor if you follow the average speed, but leave enough room ahead of you that you're not constantly braking and accelerating.
posted by snoe at 3:20 PM on March 21, 2012

When traffic is heavy this can be tricky. The key is to make a decision: do I gun it and get in front of the upcoming car and force them to slow down, or do I come to a complete stop and wait for an opening?

The latter is the safest option but if the people behind you aren't paying attention they could rear end you (but that's there fault).

No! Don't do this! Please!

I live in Los Angeles, where the freeway is always busy and the drivers are mostly jerks, and the people who merge tentatively and slowly are the bane of my existence. The key to merging safely is to get up to highway speed and claim a spot.

If you've been merging onto the highway for three years and everything has been fine - other than your anxiety, of course - then you're probably not doing terribly.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:38 PM on March 21, 2012

Also, here is how you don't claim a spot: pull next to me (IE, our cars are parallel) and then make faces because I haven't slowed down to let you in. When there is plenty of room in front of or behind me. If you are next to a car, there is no room for you.

How you DO claim a spot: look for the most likely opening in traffic as you are coming along the ramp and speed up or slow down until you are next to that spot. If you are successful, by the time you reach the end of the solid white line and hit the dashed line, you just have to change lanes and you are in. If traffic is tight, you pull up until your front bumper is almost in line with, but behind, the rear bumper of the car you are pulling in behind. If you can see the headlights of the car you are pulling in front of in your rear view mirror, chances are good there is room for you. If the car refuses to let you in, slow down and try the same thing one car back. Once successful, however, you are probably tailgating the car in front of you, so slowly ease off and get the appropriate. And give a courtesy wave to the driver who let you in.

If it is a lane that is ending and merging with another and traffic is heavy, remember that the zipper merge is faster in this case. Do not worry about merging in too soon, because this just allows people to zoom around you and try to merge ahead of you. Zipper. Merge.
posted by gjc at 4:57 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the key to proper merging is to look as soon as you possibly can. A lot of drivers wait until they are at the level with the highway - this is bad. As soon as you can see the lane you are merging into, observe the traffic and pick a spot, then ease yourself in. You should, as others have said, be going the speed of traffic or slightly faster when you do this.

Do not slow down on an on-ramp unless the traffic on the highway is slowing or someone is speeding up to not let you in (and in the latter case, slow down as little as possible). I actually prefer to not use my brakes on the highway whenever possible - if you aren't going downhill, a lot of the time you can gradually reduce your speed by simply taking your foot off the gas. Also, do not, under any circumstances, stop on an on-ramp. If you are really having trouble, drive into the shoulder.

In general, the best advice for highway driving is to constantly scan your surroundings - this includes the surrounding lanes and whatever's up ahead. If you do that, you should be just fine.
posted by breakin' the law at 4:59 PM on March 21, 2012

Matching speed is the key, I find. This is true for merging from an on-ramp or simply changing lanes. Realizing this and putting it it into action takes the stress of "I'm going slow, how will I merge with cars doing 80?".
If you're in the on-ramp or merging lane doing 20 in an 80 zone, the traffic is going 60 faster than you! Get up to 75 and they're only going 5 faster than you. Then you can tweak as necessary, pick your spot and merge on.

One thing I do to help with controlling speed is shift down a gear (for me, 2nd or 3rd depending on the desired speed) so that I have all the power I need under my foot if I need to quickly accelerate and merge in front of someone, but also that if I ease off the gas the car will slow relatively quickly too - thus no need to worry about moving my foot between gas and brake. Once I'm on and happy I shift up and the car settles into a cruise.

Strangely, I find putting on my turn signal really helps. Doesn't seem like it should matter, because, duh, I'm on a ramp that's coming to an end.

WHAT?! If I'm in the lane you are supposed to merge into and you're not signalling, and you just let the lane run out and thus "merge", I assume you're an idiot who can't drive. I see this all the time - so much so that I anticipate it regularly in my area. I have the right of way and to get into my lane you need to signal your intention to do so.

I didn't even realize that I should be mentioning the need to signal before merging - as it's like having to tell you that the engine should be running and all doors should be closed before you merge into traffic.

I also see people who don't signal until they are actually performing the lane change. This is dumb because the signal is supposed to actually tell other drivers what your upcoming intentions are, then what your current actions are - not just the latter. Besides, why NOT signal? The more information you give other drivers about your activities while they are near you, the less likely they are to crash into you.

ok, sorry, signal rant over.
posted by cmetom at 7:23 PM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that might help with the anxiety is to remind yourself that the other drivers want to avoid getting into a collision with you just as much as you do. This means that if you have to be a little forceful about where you're going to merge (ie: if you don't have any good options or you run out of time/space), the driver in the other lane will want have to accommodate you.

But, as others said above, once you're stopped the game is over -- there is no way for you to merge safely.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2012

There is such a thing as signaling too soon. Such as a child who reminds you that their birthday is only eight months from now. If you are near a spot and begin signaling, this tells a specific driver that they should be watching out and making room. If you're simply driving down the ramp signaling then you're no one's problem in particular and someone else's problem to most people. You do need to signal before you start merging, and if you need to signal to get room then you need time for that to happen, but do it deliberately, not just leaving your signal on.

If you're at the base of the ramp part of the ramp at full speed, then you will likely need to slow to corner on the ramp. Take the ramp at a reasonable/slowish speed (the posted ramp speed is usually quite slow), let the guy in front of you get well ahead, and then accelerate briskly as you're coming out of the final turn in the ramp. This should get you up to speed (yes--at or slightly faster than surrounding traffic) by the time that you need to merge.

It's difficult for the driver you're merging in front of to see your signal if you're too close, the front of the car obscures the rear signal and the front signals are not as visible. Some drivers who think people ignore signals are chronic blind spot signalers. As others have mentioned, the ideal spot to merge is relatively close to the rear of the car you're merging behind.
posted by anaelith at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2012

Thank you so much! I will start practicing, your tips are awesome.

Also, I love the short with goofy. I according to his portrayals, I would say I am driverius timidicus, the timid driver.
posted by Tarumba at 7:13 AM on March 23, 2012

I also freak out when other people are trying to get in and I'm on the right lane. I slow down and start driving like I WANT to have an accident.

(Didn't see this one answered.)

Take a quick glance over your left shoulder, signal, and move over one lane, if possible. If that's not an option, then either speed up or slow down to make a space for them in your lane. This should happen in advance, not as a last-moment reaction, because you've been paying attention to the road (you know there's a merge approaching) and the other drivers (you know there's a car that's going to need to merge).

Last-second theatrics ("driving like I want to have an accident") happen because you aren't watching ahead enough. Slower is not necessarily safer -- predictable is safer.
posted by LordSludge at 1:43 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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