Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Freeway Merging: the Fine Art Utah Drivers Don't Understand

I've lived in the beautiful state of Utah for the better part of the past thirteen years, but I don't think of myself as a Utahan. I grew up in New Mexico and I think I will always identify as being from the Land of Enchantment. That being said, there are some truly wonderful things about Utah, including the Moab Jeep Safari, some killer pastrami burgers and more outdoor activities than you could possibly want to do.

Not to be negative, but there are some drawbacks to living in Utah just like there are drawbacks to living anywhere else. One of the first crazy negative things I noticed when I first moved Utah way back in 2000 was that it seems that people here don't know how to drive on the freeways. There's some bad driving on surface streets here, but where Utah drivers become especially bad is when everyone starts travelling at faster speeds, which is just so very comforting.

Never before I moved to Utah had I seen a person cut across five lanes of traffic in less than a hundred feet just to exit the freeway. Were they high? Did they fall asleep? Do they not realize they could have killed someone? Why not just get off at the next exit, enter the freeway going the other way and backtrack to the needed exit? These were all thoughts that went through my head. I still am amazed whenever I see the carpool lane last minute freeway exit.

And then there are the people who think that the left lane is the slow lane. This activity seems to become more common the further from downtown Salt Lake City you get, with Utah and Davis Counties both being maddening to drive through.

But what I'm focusing on today is perhaps the most frustrating thing about Utah drivers and freeways: Utahans cannot merge! I know, I know, you're all saying "well nobody where I drive can merge." If you live in Southern California, Boston, New York City, Phoenix or pretty much anywhere in the United States, you haven't seen bad freeway merging. Come drive in Utah, especially during rush hour, and try getting on the freeway with a big group of cars. I dare you.

Way back when I lived in New Mexico and went through drivers ed I learned that freeway on-ramps existed for one thing only: to allow drivers enough time and distance to get their vehicles up to freeway speeds. This elementary point is where Utah drivers fail. Somehow they didn't get the memo that driving 35 mph on the ramp and then trying to merge in with traffic going 65 mph plus just doesn't turn out well. The end result is the  on-ramps stack up with slow traffic, drivers in the right lanes have to swerve all over to avoid the cars going ridiculously slow, and all of the traffic on the freeway slows. Occasionally the inability to merge on the freeway even leads to a crash.

Then you have the flip side of the equation, the fact that people don't drive in the appropriate lanes on the freeway. Like I said before, plenty of drivers go slow in the left lane, instead of in the lanes to the right. There are areas of the country where that activity will get you run off the road, and for good reason. Not only that, but I learned in drivers ed that if you can, you should get out of the rightmost lane when cars are entering the freeway, allowing them to enter without problems. These courtesies are rarely displayed on the roads here.

I strongly suspect that much of this activity that leads to Utahans merging like a pack of constipated tortoises comes from everyone's looking out only for themselves. The funny thing is that by acting that way, these people make it so everyone has to wait longer to get where they are going, including them.  

How's the freeway merging where you live?

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