What is the correct merging etiquette in a construction zone?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

Knowing of your penchant for philosophical disputes between otherwise happily
married couples, I thought I'd send you our disagreement. My wife and I live in
Michigan, the state with two seasons: "Winter" and "Construction Season." We
disagree on the best way to deal with the narrowing of a freeway by one lane due
to construction. One of us, Spouse A (notice I'm not revealing which one of us it
is, as I've noticed your definite bias toward wives), believes the proper way to
approach these situations is to use all of the available road. Spouse A says
drive right up to the orange barrels and then merge at the last possible moment.
The other spouse believes that this behavior is inconsiderate, impolite and maybe
even stupid. Spouse B thinks you should merge into the proper lanes as soon as
possible, even in heavy traffic. Obviously, we, and the rest of the nation, need
your ruling on this matter. -- Eric

TOM: Our vote goes to Spouse B, Eric. When you see a sign that says "Lane Closed
1/4 Mile," what that's saying is: "Hey, Bozo, you have a quarter-mile to safely
change lanes. And if you don't merge within that quarter-mile, you're going to
bash into our lovely orange barrels."

RAY: Most reasonable people understand what the sign means and immediately start
signaling and looking for a safe opening. Then they safely merge, and they're all
set. These people are known as "good citizens."

TOM: And then there are the Spouse A-types in their BMWs and Ford Explorers,
talking on their cell phones, blasting past at 65 mph all the way up to the
forced merge. And then they try to butt in front of everybody else. These people
are known as "jerks." And, in our opinion, they are inconsiderate, impolite and
maybe stupid.

RAY: You use the same rules as you would for a highway on-ramp. They give you a
quarter of a mile to merge into traffic. But does that mean you're supposed to
USE the entire quarter-mile and then veer into traffic at the last second? No.
You use as much of the quarter-mile as you need to make the merge safely.

TOM: Does an airline pilot feel obligated to use ALL of the runway when he lands
a plane? Does he go careening down the tarmac and then screech to a halt right
before the pavement ends and the swamp begins? No. He uses only as much runway as
he needs to stop the plane safely and comfortably and leaves the rest as a
"safety valve."

RAY: And the same is true when lanes are eliminated due to construction. So shape
up, Eric, and stop this stupid behavior (your wife already wrote and told us you
are Spouse A).

TOM: Hey, and speaking of bad driving, we're offering free bumper stickers to
discourage people from yapping on their cell phones while they should be watching
the road.

RAY: The bumper sticker says, "Drive Now, Talk Later." And you can get one free
by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope (please note the word "stamped" --
unstamped requests will not be fulfilled) to: Bumper Sticker, Car Talk Plaza, Box
3500, Cambridge, MA 02238.

TOM: Allow a few weeks for our lackeys to catch up on the envelope stuffing.

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