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What is a Sidezoomer?

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  • Written By: Phil Shepley
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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When there is a lane closure on a road, there are two categories of drivers: sidezoomers and lineuppers. A sidezoomer attempts get as far ahead as possible before he or she has to merge with slower traffic. A lineupper merges into the open lane as soon as possible and waits. These drivers exhibit several types of behavior relative to the point where the traffic is required to merge, which is also called the bottleneck.

Cynthia Gorney coined the terms sidezoomer and lineupper in a New York Times article titled The Urge To Merge. Many other terms exist for either driver; depending on the situation, some can be quite derogatory.

In heavy traffic, that usually is a result of construction, one lane will end and drivers in that lane will be forced to merge with the traffic in the remaining lanes. The sidezoomer takes advantage of the fact that there is no car in that lane.

There are three basic types action a sidezoomer can take:

  • The sidezoomer drives up the free lane and merges as soon as there is an opening.
  • The sidezoomer continues to drive until the merging lane ends, then either waits for an opening or forces his or her way in.
  • The sidezoomer exits the highway via an exit ramp, and then re-enters the same highway again where they can merge farther up from where they exited.
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In turn, the lineupper can respond in several ways:

  • The lineupper allows the sidezoomer to merge by leaving a space in front of their car.
  • The lineupper drives as closely to the car in front of them in order to block the sidezoomer from merging.
  • The lineupper drives into the merging lane and obstructs the sidezoomer from advancing further.

The actions of both drivers can magnify negative emotions, and this can lead to road rage. The lineupper feels cheated by the sidezoomer, since he or she has been waiting their turn. The sidezoomer feels that he or she has the right to use the merging lane since it is open.

The best way to speed up the traffic flow through a bottleneck is highly debatable. The following two scenarios are possible.

In the first scenario, each car becomes a lineupper and merges into the proper lane as soon as they can. The argument for this case is that the traffic will not bottleneck when all of the lanes need to merge, and the traffic will keep flowing. Those opposed to this theory claim that this slows down everyone’s progress by not utilizing all of the road’s possible space.

In the second scenario, all of the free lanes, including the merging lane, are used, thus utilizing all of the space on the road. Once the merging lane ends, all of the cars merge together by taking turns. This would resemble the teeth of a zipper as the halves join together.

What is wrong with the second scenario? The problem is human nature, of course. Somewhere along the line, a driver will invariably decide not to allow cars to merge in front of him or her, exhibiting sidezooming behavior. This will cause the drivers who follow the rules to get angry, and the whole negative cycle begins again.

Drivers concerned about laws regarding any of the above actions should refer to any laws or ordinances that govern their respective areas.

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