Stage 4: Highway Merging
Teens are generally scared at the prospect of having to merge into highway traffic. And for good reason, too! Merging is a complicated task that requires a good deal of practice to master.
Show them how it is done
Although your teen has seen you merge into highway traffic countless times, they probably weren’t paying close attention. Now that they’re about to have to do it themselves, you can rest assured that they’ll hang on your every word. So, before you head out, explain the general concept of what you’re going to do. Then, get behind the wheel and use commentary driving to explain what you’re looking for and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Here’s how merging is supposed to be done:
- Use the acceleration lane (aka entrance ramp) to quickly get up to the same speed of the highway traffic.
- Activate your turn signal.
- Look for a gap in traffic, but keep your eyes looking ahead of and behind you. The cars merging ahead of you may suddenly brake. Also, if you must brake quickly, you need to know what the cars behind you are doing.
- Once you’ve located a gap in traffic, move into it.
- Turn off your turn signal.
- Get up to speed quickly! We’re not suggesting that your floor it, but the quicker you reach highway speeds, the easier it will be to merge. On most entrance ramps, there’s an acceleration area whose sole purpose is for you to reach highway speeds. This lane then connects to the rest of the highway in what is known as the merge area. You don’t want to use your precious merge area for accelerating.
- Look for merge gaps early. Not only should you use the acceleration ramp to get up to speed, but you can also start looking for potential gaps in traffic.
- Create gaps ahead and behind you. Remember that other cars that are merging will probably have most of their attention focused on the traffic in the lane next to them. If a car ahead of you suddenly brakes in order to get into a gap, you don’t want to rear-end them. So, try to establish a large following distance on the acceleration ramp.
- Look for car “body language”. Cars in the lane you’re attempting to merge into will use their position to give you a clue as to whether or not you can merge ahead or behind them.
- For instance, if you notice the car next to you put on its brake lights, this may be an indication that they’re going to let you merge ahead of them. Of course, it may also mean that traffic ahead is slowing down and you need to brake. This should be a further reminder that you can’t be singularly focused on the traffic to your side.
- If the car next to you is maintaining or slightly increasing their speed, this may mean they’re not interested in letting you merge ahead of them. They may have already allowed someone to merge and are no longer feeling generous. Alternatively, they may not have seen you or simply don’t believe it’s their job to let you in (which it isn’t).
- Look for driver’s body language. Sometimes a driver will motion with their hand that you can merge ahead of them.
- Merge quickly. Once you’ve located the gap, move into it quickly. It should take approximately 4 seconds to move from the merge lane into your new lane. Also, if you notice that a car has slowed down to let you in, you need to begin moving into that gap within 2-3 seconds. If you wait too long, that car is going to think that you do not want to merge into the space and potentially close the gap.
- Coming to a stop in the merge lane is not a good idea. While it’s nice to think that if all doesn’t go well, you can simply stop at the end of the merge lane and wait for a gap in traffic. But, this simply isn’t safe. It takes the average car approximately 10-12 seconds to accelerate from 0 mph up to highway speeds. A car that is traveling 65 mph will cover 1/5 of a mile in that time. So, you would need a gap in traffic that is approximately a fifth of a mile long. That’s going to be extremely difficult to find and you could spend quite a long time waiting. A better tactic to help allay your teen’s fears of merging is to tell them that you’re going to guide them through every step of the merge.
You Do Not Have the Right of Way When Entering the Highway
Many drivers are unaware that drivers currently on the highway have the right of way over cars entering it. It is not the job of cars already on the highway to make room for cars entering. Furthermore, if you happen to be in a weave lane (a lane used for both entering and exiting the highway), the cars exiting the highway have the right of way over cars entering the highway.
So, it’s your job to find a gap and move into it.
You Have Plenty of Time to Merge
For some of our students, we’ve actually used a stopwatch to illustrate how much time you have on the merge area to complete your merge. In many cases, you have upwards of 15 seconds in order to complete your merge. What this means is that if a gap doesn’t present itself immediately, you can adjust your speed in order to find a gap ahead or behind of you. There’s no need to panic.
One Successful Merge Doesn’t Equal Mastery
On your teen’s first merge attempt, you need to help them find the gap in traffic. Give them constant instruction on how fast or slow to go. Help them locate a potential gap and decide when to move into the new lane.
Now that they’ve gotten onto the highway, allow your teen to get comfortable with simply driving in the far right lane for several miles. Don’t attempt any lane changes at this time. Let them simply become accustomed to driving at these speeds. Stress to them to maintain a four to five second following distance. Once they’ve relaxed slightly, have them exit the highway and immediately re-enter. You want them to practice merging and exiting the highway several times in succession.
Don’t Slow Down Before an Exit Ramp
Remind your teen that until they are actually on the exit ramp, they should maintain their highway speed. Once they are on the exit ramp, then they should begin slowing down.
Continue on to Changing Lanes on the Highway