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Automobiles crash into one another with unnecessary frequency because of improper highway signs. These types of accidents would be easily prevented by simply improving the signs, because stupid traffic signs cause auto accidents. While driving to Lake Tahoe last week I observed more carefully a place where last year I got into an unnecessarily tight situation because of an improperly placed merge arrow. The situation was common enough — I was driving on a two lane road at the posted speed limit — I seemed to be the only person on the highway who was obeying the speed law and so there was soon a batch of speed law violators piling up behind me. When a sign appeared stating a passing lane 4 miles ahead I could hear the moan go up from the people behind. Who is this idiot obeying the posted speed law here in this land where we the people create the laws we all live by and in this case we want to go 10 miles per hour faster than the big ugly traffic signs alongside the road suggest? I won’t comment further upon the fact that their elected officials created the speed laws and that if they want to change the laws they should change their elected officials.


Highway traffic control arrows controlling merging traffic

Two lanes become one at the point of the arrow.


This is a subtle point and even 100 years of responsible highway engineering seems to have missed it. All of the responsibility for merging in the location pictured above has been placed on the driver in the outside lane and no responsibility on the driver in the center lane. The problem arises because this is a short stretch of highway with intermittent additional lanes which requires slow vehicles to stay in the outside lane so faster ones can pass. If there are more fast cars than can get by in the short stretch of additional lane a dangerous fast moving congestion occurs when the two drivers are forced to merge into one lane. The fast driver is momentarily behind but wants to get ahead and is going faster than the slow driver who wants to get into the center lane. He is being forced to merge into what is perceived by the fast driver as his lane and because the fast driver feels the slow driver is squeezing into his lane he is tempted to force his way ahead. The slow driver has no choice and is compelled by the lack of road surface and ultimately the guard railing to squeeze his way into the fast driver’s lane. The fast driver either squeezes past at high speed, which is dangerous, or is forced to endure the wait of driving slower for the next several minutes, which he knows will be annoying, until another passing lane provides a passing opportunity. These faster drivers are frequently already violating the speed law and are easily frustrated by being forced by a slower driver to endure a couple of minutes of obeying the speed law. The total loss of time by the delay is always less than a minute, but five miles at 60 miles per hour instead of 70 is five minutes of frustration. So we find people risking their lives needlessly because of this arrow merging problem.

There is a simple and obvious solution, once you see it. After the second of the typically four merging arrows located in the outside lane, remove the dividing line between the lanes and place a DO NOT PASS sign along inside and outside of the road. That simple change means the merge arrows are equally applicable to the drivers in the center lane as they are to those in the outside lane. Two things happen in the minds of the drivers. The slower ones are feeling more empowered to start moving toward the center and the faster ones in the center lane are informed that they no longer have an exclusive lane, even though there is still plenty of pavement for a lane. With this simple change the instantaneous lane end as presently exists with the final arrow and the final dashed line ending simultaneously, as pictured above, would be smoothed out into a longer merge section. Everyone would be safer and the frustration of sudden lane changes and the forced squeezing on both drivers would be eliminated. The old way works okay most of the time for most of the millions of times these physical transactions happen every day throughout the world, but this small change would make things easier and safer for everyone.

This blog subtitled Life Hacks is intended to find ways to make people’s lives a little better.