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Mariah's avatar

Traffic question - who was in the wrong - and how to avoid these situations?

Asked by Mariah (25863points) December 29th, 2014

@Dutchess’s question reminded me I have a traffic question of my own.

This happened last week. My dad was attempting to merge onto the highway on the right side. He had already accelerated to match the speed of traffic. There was a car in the far right lane next to the merging lane that was mostly behind us but still somewhat “overlapping” us so that he couldn’t change lanes. My dad sped up to try and get ahead of the car, but it sped up too. At this point the merging lane ran out and we were driving on the rumble strip for a moment. My dad had to lay on the horn and the other car moved into the lane to its left. It passed us and their passenger made terrible hand gestures at us.

My mom says we were technically in the wrong because the other car, being already on the highway, had the right of way. But if that’s the case, I’m wondering what would have been the proper course of action in my dad’s situation? It’s not exactly safe to slow down while merging and there may have been other cars behind the problematic one, so I’m not sure that he could have merged behind it.

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16 Answers

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

The merging car is always at huge disadvantage. He or she is looking for room, trying to match speeds and trying to change lanes. A decent and kind driver always cuts them slack and lets them in. I hate idiots that pass me on the left right as someone is trying to merge from the right. And evidently, you found a huge idiot. Speeding up was just immature and screwing with your Dad.

jca's avatar

I agree with @Adirondackwannabe and with your mom. The merging car has to adjust their speed to try to get in. If that means slowing down, so be it. It is nice when the car that is already on the highway is courteous and lets the new guy in, but if that doesn’t happen, the new guy has no choice but stop if they have to, when they get to the end of the lane. It’s probably happened to everyone, where someone screws with them and doesn’t let them in. It’s infuriating but shit happens.

dappled_leaves's avatar

If there was a yield sign, then your dad would have been in the wrong; he should have reduced his speed until there was an opportunity to enter traffic.

But in the absence of a yield sign, I don’t think there’s any rule to determine at what speed your dad should have tried to enter traffic. The driver in the rightmost lane was unquestionably a jerk, and endangered everyone around him.

There is, of course, a difference between what is legal (“right of way”) and what is the right thing to do. Your dad made a judgment call about which behaviour was the safest/best way to enter traffic. I think that it would have been riskier for him to slow down, because that car should have slowed when he saw your dad – so the odds were better that you’d merge like a zip if your dad kept his speed higher. However, having made that decision, your dad also had to take into account that the other car might never slow down – and be prepared to react to that situation.

Without more information about the situation, I probably would have acted the same way he did.

Mariah's avatar

It’s so strange to me, I don’t get why anyone would purposefully be a jerk in such a situation – it just makes it more likely that they and other people are going to get into an accident. Who wants that?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Mariah Drive in the US for an hour. Peeps are dickheads. I have no idea why.

Mariah's avatar

This is why I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20.

JLeslie's avatar

Your dad was wrong. He is merging into traffic. Cars driving in the lane that he is coming into should be “nice” about letting merging traffic in. It’s safer and it’s a golden rule thing, but the responsibility in the end is up to the person feeding onto the highway.

Your dad actually has less of a blind spot coming on (assuming it is a typical right lane merge) and he is going from a slower speed to a faster one, so he should be finding his space in the traffic. Highway traffic is not supposed to brake, it causes traffic waves.

Also, keep in mind that the driver who stays right is more likely to be a slower driver and less able to deal with traffic changes.

I recently had a hard time getting onto a highway from a left lane merge and I was pissed, so I understand his frustration. Left lane is much more difficult, because traffic is traveling much faster. She didn’t make room for me and I was annoyed. All I could think was the idiot doesn’t stop to think I’m merging into 75–80 mph traffic.

JLeslie's avatar

Possibly the other guy sped up so your dad could merge. He might have been trying to give your dad space behind his car. They just both sped up at the same time.

Or, he might be a jerk, can’t be sure.

dxs's avatar

Around here there’s just a “NO TURNS” sign at the end of merge ramps. However, you’re supposed to yield—give the right of way-to the cars already on the highway, even though it can be dangerous. But the highway itself is pretty dangerous.
I remember during construction of a bridge once, there was actually a stop sign while merging onto 95. Oh RI driving.

kritiper's avatar

You can’t just crowd in although other traffic should allow you the room to merge. Maybe both drivers were being too aggressive but the driver that sped up to keep you out was not in the right and probably not allowing proper following distance. Making conditions occur in which accidents could happen is not safe and is unlawful.

gondwanalon's avatar

Your mother is wrong, The car already on the the freeway has 4 options: speed up, slow down, change lanes or do nothing. A simply tap on the breaks would have prevented that dangerous situation and is also just plain common curtesy.

The merging car has three options: Speed up, slow down or drive off the road. Two of those options are not good when you are trying to merge onto to a high speed freeway.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Merging traffic must wait for an opening and then accelerate to merge into the traffic. Just driving up the ramp and hoping for and opening causes accidents and other drivers/passengers to use their middle finger. The autos on the highway have the “right of way” not the auto coming up the ramp.

JLeslie's avatar

@gondwanalon What state do you live in?

dappled_leaves's avatar

@gondwanalon The OP’s mother was not driving, and said that the OP’s father, who was driving, was in the wrong. It’s not clear whether you think the driver did the right thing of not.

CWOTUS's avatar

You don’t see them so much any more, but in yesteryear when “the interstate” was still a new thing, nearly all entrance ramps had signs that explicitly stated (to the driver attempting the merge) to “Yield Right of Way” or simply “Yield”. Some ramps still have that sign, of course, but they’re not as prevalent as they once were.

On normal streets with driveways and parking lots and right-angled side streets with stop signs and so forth, the presumption is “whoever is first” has right of way. So you can feel confident (legally) in pulling out of a driveway as long as the road traffic has the opportunity to slow and even stop if necessary. You were there first, so you have right of way. (Obviously, it’s not always wise to drive this way!) But that right of way does not apply to interstate highways and other high speed roads which are designed and operated so the drivers do not “normally” have to be on the lookout for merging traffic.

Your mother is correct. It is up to the merging driver to “make a safe merge”, and not the responsibility of the driver on the main road to “make way”, to move over or slow down. (Of course, it’s often the prudent thing to do and nearly always the polite thing to do, but that’s for smart and courteous drivers to figure out for themselves. Given modern traffic patterns and frequently crowded conditions in urban driving, this isn’t as absolutely true as it is on rural highways.) The onus is always on the driver attempting to join the flow of traffic, and the signs are there (or were there) to remind him of that fact. (I think it’s one of the basic rules of the road explicitly pointed out in driver training manuals issued by every state DMV; you don’t have to take my word for it.)

In point of fact it is always “safe to slow down” when conditions warrant that. Obviously your father wanted to merge “at speed” into the highway traffic, and not join the traffic from a standing start, which might require the high speed drivers to make emergency maneuvers to avoid him. That’s part of the “yield” that he has to make. If for some reason he is forced to make a start onto the road from a standing start or a very slow speed, then he has to wait for that opening in the traffic, in order to make a safe entry. Now, once he’s on the road, and presumably accelerating up to highway speed, if drivers coming up behind him are forced to slow because of his current lack of speed, but if they can do that safely and in a non-emergency manner, then that’s just normal driving.

The thing is, “not joining the road from a standing start”, which your dad might have had to do if he had been forced to stop at the mouth of the entrance ramp (some busy highways, such as around Los Angeles and other highly congested areas actually have red and green traffic lights at the mouth of the entrance ramp!) is for his convenience. Having to wait for a larger gap in traffic would have inconvenienced him, and he didn’t want to wait and then have to judge an abnormal (accelerate from the stopped position) entry onto the highway.

But that’s what was called for. Either slowing to pass behind the (possibly distracted, confused or simply inattentive or discourteous) driver who was already in or partially in that lane, or pull forward with enough additional speed as to make the overlap disappear – but that may have been unsafe as well.

He should have slowed on the entrance ramp – or even stopped – and merged with a better gap.

Mariah's avatar

Thank you for that detailed answer @CWOTUS. I feel a little safer now as a (still) fairly new driver, knowing that that option is available and is perfectly valid. My dad has always framed it to me as being incredibly dangerous to try and merge onto a highway from a standstill. But of course if there’s room, it could be OK.

Thanks everybody. Driving is still scary to me. There are too many split second decisions involved that could cost a life and I’m not so good at coping with that thought as a pretty anxious person. But I’m slowly learning things that will help me get there someday.

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