Thou shalt not pass; thou shalt not squeeze in. The instant we realise that up ahead on the road to hell, three lanes are to become two, those of us drivers with good intentions do the honourable thing and vacate the soon-to-be-closed lane. Glowing with virtue, we crawl along, glowering at the sinners steaming past us along the now empty lane intent on pushing in as late as they possibly can. When they get to that point we will not let them in. This will necessitate driving dangerously close to the car in front to deny the sinners any space to drive into.
I have been doing this for all the years I’ve been driving, assuming I was on the side of the angels. Once an oil tanker ahead of me moved across a little to straddle the middle and the fast lane, which was about to run out. He did so with the specific purpose of stopping the sinners from steaming past us. I considered this act so heroic that I followed him into the next services to praise him. He was pleased. We both cursed the sinners a bit, swore a lot, and then went on our way.
Then I heard tell of something called “merging like a zip”: a practice in New Zealand, and not uncommon in the US. This rule dictates that, whenever two lanes become one, you drive right up to that point and then take it in turns to proceed. You know, like a zip. Wow! Years of righteous indignation rippled guiltily behind me. Of course, if we do this then everything will flow more easily and there will be so much less upset.
I resolved to start merging like a zip for all I was worth. And I have been disappointed to find that it has won me very few fans in the middle lane. They hate me with all the passion I had before I saw the light. I forgive them: they know not what they should do, even though I was staggered to discover that merging like a zip is effectively advised in the Highway Code. Rule 134, since you ask. “Merging in turn is recommended but only if safe and appropriate when vehicles are travelling at a very low speed, eg when approaching road works or a road traffic incident.”
Steve Fowler, the editor in chief of Auto Express, says: “If everyone knew what to do and where to do it, we’d see reduced congestion, which means reduced pollution, and also less road rage. Drivers get really rattled by people perceived to be pushing in, when in reality all they are doing is what the Highway Code tells them to do. Perhaps zip-merging signs will solve the problem.”
It is a bit like mask-wearing and vaccine-taking in that it only works properly if we all do it. It is depressing how many people couldn’t see the point of masks because they didn’t protect the wearer so much as those standing around the wearer. But I suspect the non-take-up of zip-merging is less about selfishness than an outcome of an unresolved conflict between two very British urges. “Take it in turns!” is hollered at us from a young age and surely is hard-wired. But so is the idea of forming an orderly queue and that, for the moment, is winning out on the roads and jamming them up.
Things must change. Never mind smart motorways; just get the zip-merging signs up. For my part, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy: I am ordering a T-shirt I found on the internet bearing the legend: Merge Like A Zip, Not Like A C*nt. I’m not sure this would be the best approach for a public information campaign, but it’s a start.