Reports indicate that the Ontario Provincial Police have been focused on the area of Highway 401 near construction zones between London and Chatham. 629 charges have been laid since June of 2018 including 469 for speeding.

One of the complaints of unsafe actions included late merging of vehicles where a lane is closed. The London Free Press quoted Constable Jay Denorer on this issue:

“A lot of times, coming down to one lane, people will start passing on the shoulder (of the road) to try and get in front of somebody,” he said. Noting there is ample notification of construction zones ahead, Denorer said “there’s no reason for it, it’s just people being impatient.”

Yet there could be other reasons.

In the past year or two there has been considerable publicity focused on drivers needing to adopt a new merging technique called the “Zipper Merge” when approaching a closed lane. The approach was supported in the State of Minnesota as well as by research from Germany and the Virginia Transportation Research Council. The City of London has also promoted the Zipper Merge as described on its website:

“The zipper merge is a late merge strategy where all available lanes of traffic are used right up to the lane closure. Drivers then alternate into the open lane. The zipper merge strategy is most effective when there are high traffic volumes on the road, combined with low average speeds due to congestion.”

On Hwy 401 this late merge while approaching a construction zone is safe because of a relatively low traffic volume.

There is plenty of room to complete this late merge because the traffic volume is low.

While it is believed that persons who approach a closed lane late are doing so to pass other traffic, that conclusion may not be clear when drivers are following the instructions of the Zipper Merge. Confusion and misunderstandings can occur when lane changes need to be made at the last instant without clear guidance as to what speeds are appropriate and which driver has the official right to cross in front of another. These misunderstandings can be sorted out when merging occurs earlier before the situation turns into an emergency.

With respect to speeding, the 469 charges laid by the OPP since June may need to be put into perspective. Recent observations by Gorski Consulting of traffic along Highway 401 between London and Chatham have shown that not a single vehicle was found to be travelling at, or below, the speed limit of 100 km/h. The typical traffic volume along this section of the highway might be in the range of 50,000 vehicles per day. Assuming 5 months of focused patrolling, or about 150 days, this would mean that there were a total of 7.5 million official speeders on Highway 401 but only 469 were charged. One could conclude that the probability of being charged for speeding would be about 0.006 percent!

Is this “99 km/h” speed understood to be speeding? If it was not in a construction zone the OPP might interpret that it is not. But who knows?

Everyone understands that the official speed limit of 100 km/h is not the practical speed limit that is enforced. Observations suggest that the enforced speed limit may be something in the range of 120 km/h, but only the OPP know for sure. But what speed is being enforced within a construction zone? If the speed limit is 80 km/h do the OPP only charge drivers who are travelling at 100 km/h or higher? There would appear to be some confusion surrounding this point.