Merging madness: how Australia’s country overtaking lanes can be fixed

The zone at the end of an overtaking lane is where bad things happen, but there is a solution.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH Australia’s country road overtaking lanes is very simply described:


The problem is at end of the lane. The onus on the slower-moving drivers to merge in, when the vehicles in the overtaking lane are, by definition, faster moving, and probably more agile.

The Zone of Crazy is that last 500m of road before the overtaking section ends, and it can be very difficult driving something like a car and trailer in the slower lane trying to merge while lots of people try a last-minute overtake.

But there is a way to improve things:


Make the overtakers merge back into the slower lane.

This works well in the UK, and it can work well here. This places the onus on those that started the overtake to do the merging, whereas the way we have it, the driver being overtaken has to fight their way back in… which only gives slower cars an incentive to stay in the overtaking lane, or move in very early.

The other improvement is the dots on the road so you know when the lane ends. The problem with signs on the left of the road is that they are easily obscured by tall vehicles like trucks or trailers. Dots on the road can’t be missed so easily.

So what do you reckon – are you happy with the overtaking lanes they way they are, or do you want them changed?

Further reading

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  1. Alan
    January 16, 2017 at 9:12 am — Reply

    It’s the logical way – which is why it won’t happen here.

    I’ve long said that they’re marked wrong – technically, the law says we should ALWAYS be in the left lane unless overtaking. But they then make the RIGHT lane to have precedence – which should be empty unless someone is overtaking. So what happens is that people predict much too early when the lane is finishing.

    The same thing happens when they give a 1km merging lane on a Motorway entry. I use that lane to get up to speed and merge at the end of the lane where an actual merge is marked, blending with the traffic easily at the end, as I’ve made sure my speed is matched. But instead of getting up to speed in the merging lane, the VAST majority of drivers will barge into the next lane immediately, often crossing across multi-lanes causing the whole Motorway to go into chaos.

    Crazy – but our politicians, road designers and police don’t seem to understand logic.

    • Captain Obvious
      January 16, 2017 at 10:11 pm — Reply

      The motorway merge issue is just bad, illegal driving when drivers jump out across the solid line. The politicians and road designers can do what they like, but fools will always be fools. In fairness, the driving handbook and licence testing (at least two decades ago when I passed) spends exactly zero time explaining how to merge safely.

      There is no issue, however, with merging over the broken line even if it is well before the lane ends, as long as the driver is at the appropriate speed and with the appropriate gap… which happens… sometimes.

  2. Captain Obvious
    January 16, 2017 at 10:04 pm — Reply

    I like where you are going with this Robert. However one thing that might influence the right of way of the fast lane is that if the slow lane driver is ‘squeezed out’ they have a chance to overrun the lane and brake in the left hand shoulder. The fast lane driver that cannot merge in the same situation will run into opposing traffic. The former outcome is not great, but the latter is catastrophic.

    That is not to say it can’t work. I personally like the zip merge, but I have heard that they don’t work well at high speeds. I am not sure why not and am always keen to learn!

    • January 16, 2017 at 10:48 pm — Reply

      I tink that problem is easily fixed with extra road markings showing that the fast lane is ending.

      • Captain Obvious
        January 16, 2017 at 11:17 pm — Reply

        The same logic could be applied for a left hand merge. In any case, you are fixing the likelihood but still maintaining exposure to a catastrophic outcome. This is how risk is assessed in government. A moderate likelihood – moderate impact will always be preferred by government officials over a low likelihood – catastrophic impact.

        I am not saying it is right, just saying it how the system works. It makes them feel more comfortable about having to stand in the witness box.

    • Territory46
      January 20, 2017 at 6:12 pm — Reply

      I don’t think the zip merge works anywhere in AUS- those merging refuse to speed up to traffic speed and often come to a complete stop!

  3. dilligaf
    January 17, 2017 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    Why not make everyone responsible by using the zip merge rule instead of a lane change.

  4. Ian
    January 20, 2017 at 5:26 pm — Reply

    Merge lanes never use to worry me but since I’ve started towing a van I need to watch for the idiots that start to overtake in the merge zone so now I am one that does move over early if the traffic looks like creating a problem for me: running into the dirt at speeds is no fun! I often slow down and let trucks make the most of these passing lanes when safe to do so. I like the UK approach.

  5. JaiNormosone
    January 20, 2017 at 8:56 pm — Reply

    I like where you’re going with this. The bigger problem is two-fold in that you have people operating motor vehidles while refusing to practice anything resembling consideration for other road users – any Main Roads departments who refuse to stick to anything resembling good practice when designing roads.
    A perfect example of a piece of road that is designed to kill road users – regardless of how experienced they are – is the end of King St heading west from Caboolture and “merging” onto a section of highway that is 100kph. It is a near blind corner and an entry ramp that is maybe 3-4 car lengths long.
    Queensland also has this mentality that if slow vehicles are to remain to the left then *I* must drive on the right because “… I’m not a slow driver…”
    There are many aspects of road management from the UK and Europe that need to be brought into Australia as well as a nice cold chisel to get the information into some thick skulls.

    When are executives in government departments… people often paid much more than MPs… going to held accountable for the dangers they cause in society for refusing to implement those so-called World’s Best Practice that they all talk about? If a few get locked up, we might get roads that are designed better and new childrens hospitals that aren’t already infected with Legionaires Disease.

  6. Johnw3485
    February 7, 2017 at 11:23 am — Reply

    How about giving the left lane a maximum speed limit of 10 or 20 kph lower than the right lane, then a bit more room to zip merge at the end. At least then the slow lanes could be policed. As it is now both lanes are are at the posted speed limit, which, if the vehicle in the left lane speeds up, it encourages the vehicle in the right lane to exeed the posted limit in order to pass. The biggest problem I have had with overtaking lanes is the “slow vehicle” speeding up, and then slowing down after the overtaking lane finnishes. In most states of Australia it seems people are willing to kill or die trying not to let someone past.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper