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The driving tactic that could make your morning commute easier

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Maybe this has happened to you. You're driving down the highway, music blasting, or maybe some NPR, and then you see signs for a lane closure ahead. You might be the kind of person who merges as soon as you can into the slow-moving open lane. But then you see those drivers next to you, the ones who breeze by, putting off that merge until the last possible moment. Does this tick you off? Are you sitting there thinking, how rude?

Well, it turns out those other drivers might have the right idea. This is called zipper merging, and it's actually encouraged by transportation officials in a lot of states, including the one of our next guest Marshall Zelinger. He's a reporter with 9News in Denver, Colo., where he's been on a bit of a zipper-merge education campaign this year, and he joins us to talk about it now. Hi, Marshall.

MARSHALL ZELINGER: Hi, Ayesha. It's going to be a movement. After today, we're going nationwide.

RASCOE: (Laughter) OK, so did I describe zipper merging correctly?

ZELINGER: You did it phenomenally, except from the zipper merge perspective is the people breezing by aren't the rude ones.

RASCOE: Yes. And this is usually for, like, construction zones. What about when there's, like, a busy exit or, like, a car accident when a lane is blocked off, like, what we're describing? Zipper merging is waiting until you get as close to that obstruction as possible.

ZELINGER: Correct. If your lane is ending, you're still encouraged to take it all the way that you can to help ease congestion behind you. However, if it's an exit lane and you're trying to use the exit lane as far as you can before you swoop back into traffic, that is not a zipper merge. That's being a jerk.

RASCOE: OK. This is radio, but I do recommend for people who can to look at this on YouTube 'cause I feel like that will really - seeing the visual really makes it clear. I had to look it up. Is it always more efficient and safer to do the zipper merge?

ZELINGER: When traffic is slow because of, like, a construction zone, yes. There is a study that several experts have told me it could ease traffic in that area by 40%.

RASCOE: Well, so other than just educating the public about this driving technique, what else do you think would help drivers get into this habit?

ZELINGER: Well, let me - so my idea - make your hand like a peace sign. So everybody put up your - let's say your right hand, like you're the driver. Put up your right hand in front of your rear view mirror. Make the peace sign and then bring your fingers together.

RASCOE: Like a zipper.

ZELINGER: Like a zipper. You've made two into one. We should get the Spice Girls involved.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

ZELINGER: You know, two into one. And that's my campaign for this - is the more people know about it, the more normal it's gonna be. And I'll tell you, we got an email from someone who went to church last weekend and said, they were in line for communion, two lines, and they both looked at each other at the front of the line, zippered, did the hand signal to each other. And that's the moment I understood I'm literally doing the Lord's work.

RASCOE: (Laughter). We're so grateful. That's Marshall Zelinger of 9News in Denver, talking about zipper merging. Thank you so much. And safe driving and safe zipper merging, Marshall.

ZELINGER: Thank you, Ayesha. And feel free any weekend to just end the show like, you know, have a good weekend and don't forget to zipper merge.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "2 BECOME 1")

BABY SPICE: (Singing) 'Cause tonight is the night when two become one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.