A clash of merging styles

Dear Annie

Dear Annie: My husband and I have been having an argument about this for the past five years, and I am really hoping you can settle it once and for all. Whenever we hit heavy traffic on the interstate because two lanes are merging into one (because of construction, usually), he immediately puts on his signal and tries to merge, meekly puttering along until someone allows him in. Whenever I am driving and we are in the same situation, I drive ahead in the lane that’s ending and then merge just as the lane ends. Often this gets us some honks, and sometimes people flip us the bird. Always my husband is mortified, slouching down in his seat and trying to disappear.

I think my way just makes the most sense. If everyone merged in that fashion, there would be no slow-down traffic in the first place.

I have tried encouraging my husband to do the same when I am in the passenger seat. He gets irritated and says, “I’m not the type of person that does that” or “People will think I’m a jerk.”

Annie, who is right here? — Merging Maven

Dear Merging Maven: You’re both right. When two lanes are reducing to one and traffic is heavy, late merging — also known as “side zooming” and “zipper merging” — makes traffic flow more efficiently, according to studies by the Virginia Transportation Research Center, the department of civil engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and others. That’s because the method allows drivers to maximize road space, using both lanes for as long as possible, and causes drivers to merge in a predictable, orderly fashion. The Alberta Motor Association’s video titled “Zipper Merge Demonstration” (available on YouTube) illustrates the concept.

Not depicted in the “Zipper Merge Demonstration” animation are the obscene hand gestures other drivers are likely to give when you try this out in real life. The departments of transportation in Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri have educational campaigns designed to get more drivers on board with this much-maligned merging method. But until public opinion catches up with the research, your husband is right. People will think you’re a jerk.

Dear Annie: Am I the only one who has been suffering during the past few years from a surfeit of music/noise everywhere I go? It’s in stores, restaurants and pharmacies — and even on the radio as a background to speech. When people are speaking and there is music in the background, I have a terrible time understanding the speech. Raising the volume only makes it worse. And when I ask people in restaurants and stores to lower the volume, often they don’t have access to the controls. Can anything be done about this really annoying problem? — Exhausted in Montreal

Dear Exhausted: No, you’re not the only one. Caroline Mayer of Forbes magazine put this question to retail anthropologist Paco Underhill. Mayer reports: “Retailers, Underhill explained, are increasingly relying on music (plus lighting and scents) to make shopping more sensory, or ‘experiential’ as industry experts like to say. That’s partly to differentiate the in-store experience from online shopping.” (You can read Mayer’s full article — titled “Are You as Sick of Loud Music in Stores as I Am?” — on Forbes’ website.) Being in a store with blaring music might be a sensory experience, but I can’t say it’s a pleasant one. I second your plea for businesses to please dial back the volume.

One final note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that difficulty hearing because of background noise can be a sign of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Aging. It’s never a bad idea to have your hearing checked, just in case.