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New bill requiring education on zipper merge headed to Olympia

(Oran Viriyincy, Flickr)

I have been a huge zipper merge supporter from the beginning. It eliminates backups and moves traffic more efficiently, but most drivers in Washington appear to have no idea how to do it, or incorrectly assume they do.

RELATED: Washington drivers need Montana’s zipper merge signs

It’s simple: When a lane is ending and the traffic is heavy — I’m talking stop-and-go or worse — drive all the way to the end and merge over at that point, taking turns with those already in the lane. You are not cutting the line. You are using the pavement engineers gave you to use.

Drivers already in the lane who speed up to prevent those from merging over are doing it wrong. So are the merging drivers who cut over at a 45 degree angle, blocking both lanes.

“It’s not only the people in the lane that is being merged-into, that are potentially trying to protect their spot,” State Representative Jesse Young said. “It’s also the people in the lane you’re trying to merge out of that don’t do it right.”

Young sees this lack of merging understanding on the roads around Gig Harbor, and he has introduced a bill that would require zipper merge education and testing for new drivers.

“The new drivers going through this would have the opportunity to not only learn it, but be tested on it to make sure that all new drivers are made aware of it,” Rep. Young said.

His bill wouldn’t require the zipper merge be put into the driver’s manual, but it would provide for teaching materials and a video to be made available. As it stands now, zipper merging is not taught, and merging, in general, is barely covered; it’s not even a half page in the driver’s manual.

I asked Young why he thinks Washington drivers don’t understand how this works.

“I think generally we are a politer group of people up here, and that explains why people don’t merge correctly from the merge lane because they feel like they are cutting,” he said. “And because we’re so polite, we feel aggrieved if someone is perceived to be cutting us.”

RELATED: Basic Washington traffic laws that are broken all the time

But doing it wrong can lead to accidents and potential road rage, and that is one of the key issues for Young on this bill.

“I hope that this is viewed as a solution that doesn’t require a lot of money, doesn’t require new taxes, and can make everybody just a little bit more productive in how we get to work and deal with our lives every day,” he said.

A few more items about zipper merging: It doesn’t really apply to an “exit only” lane. Once you see that bright yellow sign designation that section of road as exit only, you need to get over.

I’m sure we each have our favorite spot where no one zipper merges. I have a top two for you: Where the I-5 Express Lanes end in Northgate, and any ramp between I-5 and Mercer.

And one more thing to eliminate more confusion: The zipper works in congestion. If the roads are open, merge when it’s safe to do so. The moratorium on speeding up to keep the person from merging-in is in effect at all times.

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