Rules of the Road

Rules of the Road: How long can I wait to merge?

Drivers wait in a backup on Interstate 5 through Bellingham on Oct. 31, 2008.
Drivers wait in a backup on Interstate 5 through Bellingham on Oct. 31, 2008. The Bellingham Herald

Question: I learned growing up that when there is roadwork or an accident on the highway, you travel to the farthest spot possible and then merge over into one lane to get around the problem. This has been consistent everywhere I have driven. The exception seems to be around this neck of the woods, the great Northwest. I have been on the freeway many times when vehicles needed to merge into one lane (eventually), and drivers seem to merge literally miles before needed. Thus making the back up close to two miles, instead of one or so on. Why can’t everyone use both lanes and merge safely and courteously at the front-most spot? I was actually almost driven into the center divider by a semi-truck once not wanting me to pass and drive up ahead just because he had merged “early.”

Today I witnessed the same driving on Interstate 5 due to an accident. Drivers behind me started to drive in both lanes to deter others from passing on the left. Which they ALL could have done legally!

Is it legal and OK for drivers to drive in two lanes to stop others from using a lane? What is the rule for merging over? I have been tempted to call 911 when this happens, to report aggressive, dangerous and discourteous driving.

Answer: You are correct, you do not need to merge as soon as you see the warning signs. They are there only to advise that there is a roadway change approaching.

Yes, it would be wonderful if drivers could be courteous and allow an easy merge when it is needed. Unfortunately, too many drivers are in too much of a hurry to be courteous.

No, it is not legal for drivers to drive in both lanes to stop other drivers from using them. Here is the applicable law for that: RCW 46.61.140 Driving on roadways laned for traffic. (1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.

As to the rules for merging, the vehicle that is in the lane that is indicated as “ending” must safely merge into the lane that is continuing.

Rules of the Road is a regular column with questions and answers on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Answers come from David Wright, a retired officer from the Bellingham Police Department who serves on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. For previous Rules of the Road columns or to ask a question, go to