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Are highway on-ramps really that difficult?

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The definition of the word merge makes it sound pretty simple: "to cause to combine or coalesce; unite."

Nevertheless, it's a word that seems to throw many drivers into an acute fit of utter confusion when it's encountered at the end of a highway on-ramp.

No matter what city, province or state, everyone has fumed as they follow a slow poke who rambles down an on-ramp at 50 km/h. Only once these speed demons reach the end of the ramp do they finally push the accelerator down as they try frantically to blend with traffic moving at twice their speed. It almost always ends poorly, with a long line of cars behind the dawdler desperate to find a gap in the oncoming wave of vehicles before slamming the gas pedal to the floor in an effort to avoid a collision.

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It shouldn't be this way. While it seems almost difficult for some to understand, on-ramps were specifically invented to serve as mini drag strips where cars entering freeways have space to increase their speed from normal street limits of about 50 km/h to the 100 posted on most highways. Even the most prudent accelerators should be able to attain a speed of 100 km/h at the end of these ramps. There's a good reason for it. Merging with traffic going 40 km/h quicker can be dangerous for both the driver entering the highway and those already at speed.

Then again, let's not forget that there are two sides to every coin. As aggravating as speed challenged drivers happen to be, there are also those who seem determined to protect our highways against perceived interlopers. These drivers refuse to make it easy on others trying to join the traffic flow by jealously guarding the far right lane. These sentinels block entry into the freeway and often force other cars to either brake hard when they run out of room or accelerate forcefully to muscle their way into traffic before the end of the merge lane.

Merging onto a highway should be akin to a choreographed dance where drivers work together like partners, anticipating the other's move and responding with clear, co-operative action. It isn't complicated, but many drivers are determined to make it that way.

Send your automotive questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
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