If you drive with enough awareness of your surroundings, you've probably developed a particular knack for spotting cars on the road that aren't being piloted with very much skill. You know the scenes. The Crown Vic driver taking the car's boat-on-wheels persona quite literally by gently floating between lanes on the highway. Perhaps the Lumina that suddenly snaps to attention in the left lane after driving onto that insane rumble strip. Someone obviously dropped a Juicy Juice in the back seat. Or maybe the entirely too tinted G35 tailgating some generic vehicle in the slow lane.
We avoid these semi-unguided missiles. We maintain our speed, perhaps change lanes, and do what we can to get away. We blame them for everything that goes wrong. Their fault we're sitting in traffic. Spilt coffee? Their fault. Elevated heartrate? Yep. But are they deserving of our most pointed vehicular disdain?
I say no. These situations have only local impacts. I say our ire should be reserved for those who demonstrate a particular lack of skill in... MERGING. The scourge of poor mergers is so rampant you can see the effects nearly every time you venture out and the impact of a poor merge can ripple on for miles behind the crime scene.
I divide moronic merge maneuvers into two basic buckets: the Mom Merge and the Meathead Merge.
The Meathead MergeSo the takeaway is simple! What's behind you is important! Sure, the Mom Merge can be blamed on a lack of power. And, sure, the Meathead Merge can be blamed on a slow-moving car. But these are just poor excuses for bad driving and an apathy to vehicular cause and effect.
The Meathead Merge describes what happens when a car already on the road changes lanes without considering an obvious difference in speed. You're going 80mph in the left lane when the offending car suddenly yanks itself into your lane. You're forced to light up your brakes to match their speed touching off a chain reaction of nosedives in your rearview. Your lane has now started clotting and you're stuck hoping everyone behind you gets with the program. Signal? No way, bro. You can hear the bass from totally dope 12" subs in the trunk. That counts, right?
The Mom Merge
The Mom Merge happens when a car enters a road from the side from, for example, an entry ramp or a side street. This is more the result of obvliviousness than hubris when compared to the Meathead Merge but it is nonetheless just as frustrating and dangerous. The car that enters from a ramp or a side street is either accelerating from a stop or from a speed much lower than everyone elses. Placing your car into a lane where cars are traveling at speed without making an attempt to get up to that speed is a recipe for disaster. The lucky cars are able to change lanes, though perhaps at an increased risk of merging like a meathead (see above), but the unlucky cars are aiming for the exit ramp just beyond and have no choice but to brake hard. Cue chain reaction.
The next time you find yourself getting onto the highway or stuck behind a Camry cramping your style, remember that you're just a kid in the sandbox. Play nice, make good first impressions and remember to share. Be considerate. If you're running out of tarmac and you need to get your merge on, use that fun pedal! It's probably the only time you'll have an excuse to let that sub-2L engine stretch its legs! If you need to switch lanes, wait for a gap and get moving. And all the cool kids use signals.
So don't be a mom or a meathead when you merge. And if you are a mom, do your part to break the stereotype! We love you! And if you are a meathead, those fake vents on the fenders do not look "tight". Oh, and I can smell that air "freshener" from inside my car and I think I might barf.
For an obsessive look at traffic wave dynamics, check out www.trafficwaves.org.
[Author's Note: My mom is not guilty of the Mom Merge. She is a cab driver turned suburban marauder. And, no, I was not forced at headlock to write this.]