What’s the right way to merge? Miscues often create tension in traffic

CHICAGO— Merging maniacs can be frustrating, infuriating, and create big problems on the roads.

On our congested streets, it seems certain drivers are often trying to merge too early while others wait to the last minute, or even worse, avoid the traffic altogether by turning the shoulder into their own personal lane.

A little bit of consideration seems to go a long way with most drivers. Their advice is simple: don’t be pushy, use your signal, wait your turn and generally do what you’re supposed to do. While everyone wants to follow the rules, it doesn't necessarily mean they know what those rules really are. States like Kansas have even launched campaigns to teach drivers how to do it properly.

But who really has the right-of-way when cars are merging?

"It’s a sense of negotiations between two drivers, you’re looking at each other, you're gauging who’s going to go first. Look for the nod, look for the brake tap," DePaul transportation expert Dr. Joe Schwieterman said. "And when that breaks down, there’s a whole series of things that happen. Somebody has to slow down dramatically, because they can’t merge, and it causes a ripple effect and creates real tension in the roadways."

We've all seen  what that tension looks like. Cars crossing over lane lines or onto the shoulder to prevent others from passing. Creative hand gestures. And honking. Plenty of honking.

According to Illinois State Police, there is no specific law in Illinois for merging onto the highway. However, troopers say highway traffic typically has the right of way.Still, if there is a crash because someone didn’t yield, both drivers could be cited for aggressive driving.

When a lane is ending or two are merging into one, try not to get tense if you see drivers staying in the ending lane until the last minute. It may seem like they're trying to sneak in, but they are not in the wrong. Studies show when drivers merge late at the front of the line, alternating with vehicles in the other lane like a zipper, it can reduce congestion by 40 to 50 percent.