Traffic Jams Result When 'Nice' Drivers Can't Figure Out the Zipper Merge

One way to perceive the psychology of a place is to examine how its residents drive. The wife and I, some time before we were married, once took a trip to Grand Forks, North Dakota. We were astounded by the difficulty rural drivers seemed to have with the town’s relatively urban traffic controls. One gal paused at a stop sign and waited for it to turn green. No doubt unaccustomed to seeing much cross-traffic in out-state townships, drivers were reluctant to proceed if a vehicle could be seen approaching from the horizon.

We mocked our hosts then. But we have our own oddities, even in the booming metro area of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The people of our state are known nationwide for their “Minnesota nice,” generous smiles, seemingly sincere greetings, eager accommodations and such. In truth, we are no more good-natured than anyone else. We just mask our resentment in passive aggression. In traffic, that translates to backups whenever two lanes merge into one.


As a typical Minnesotan approaches the merger of two lanes, he or she is prompted by an inexplicable sense of duty to merge as soon as possible. Some drivers, of course, do not. This results in a scenario where those who merged early, thinking themselves considerate, watch resentfully as their less-considerate peers zoom past them and merge ahead. For many, this resentment soon metastasizes into a conviction to prevent anyone from merging ahead of them. To enforce this conviction, they close the distance between their vehicle and the one immediately ahead of them. This naturally results in slower speeds, because they must drive slower to drive safely when close to another vehicle, and because a merge prevented is merely a merge delayed. This dynamic creates a big mess which plagues lane mergers in Minnesota traffic daily, all due to the tragic intersection of “Minnesota nice” and passive aggression.

What do driving habits in your state tell you about the people that live there?