Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Use Your Turn Signal

by Conroy

My girlfriend strongly encouraged me to write a post about one of my pet peeves: the many drivers ­– other drivers – who don’t use their car’s turn signals. Does this exasperate you as much as it does me? We’ve all been there, you’re driving along a busy road and the brake lights of the car in front of you flash bright red, and the car begins to slow, and you’re confused because there’s no reason you can see to be slowing down. Is there something wrong with their car? Is there debris in the road? Is there an accident ahead? No wait, the car isn’t going to, yes, it’s turning into a driveway. Of course you could have rear-ended the car because the driver just abruptly slowed to a virtual stop in the road with no warning whatsoever to you about what was going on. They didn’t use their turn signal. You know, the standard issue, easily accessible, simple-to-use, installed-for-a-clear-purpose turn signal. The turn signal designed specifically to alert other drivers (like you) about turns and lane changes. The turn signal whose purpose is to increase the safe operation of your car and to make the roads safer and operate better for everyone. The turn signal…wait, I’ve already started ranting.

I think her encouragement mostly stems from a hope that by writing about it I’ll stop preaching to her and berating other drivers (not that they know it), every time I see someone not use their turn signal, which seems like multiple times every single day. Lately I’ve been honking at drivers in front of me who fail to use their signals1. It’s my attempt to shame them, but I won’t do that to my readers, so I’ll just proffer some advice, use your turn signal. But if you need more encouragement, read on.

The Lazy, the Selfish, and the Wrong
I’ve given this issue some thought and I’ve identified three possible reasons why people fail to use their signals: (1) laziness, (2) an intellectual or philosophical position that finds the use of turn signals unnecessary, and (3) a selfishness that borders on contempt for everyone else on the road. None of these reasons is justifiable and all counterarguments in support of them are untenable, but let’s take them one at a time.

Is this action really so hard?
First laziness. You’re driving along and you approach an intersection where you’re going to turn left. There’s a car behind you. But you decide it’s too much trouble to shift your left arm2 a few inches to the turn signal shaft and apply a downward flick of the fingers to engage the left turn signal. An action that takes about one second and requires essentially zero energy3. You decide that the no-time-zero-effort action is still too much for you. You’d rather risk getting in an accident, endangering your safety and property (not to mention that of the driver and vehicle behind you) by not warning the driver behind that you’ll be stopping to turn. No, don’t be lame, use your turn signal.

I suppose one could take a position that turn signals are often unnecessary and therefore can go unused. After all, why do you, a competent driver, need to alert other drivers that you’ll be changing lanes on the highway? If there’s a gap between vehicles you’ll take it. If you’re going to make a turn, you’ll check your rearview mirror and slow gradually (and you might even shift slightly toward the side of the road in the direction of your turn to give the vehicles behind you some room to pass). Other drivers don’t need to know every little move you’re going to make, you’ll take care of your driving and they can take care of theirs. Wrong. We’re all using the roads together; driving is a social behavior. Turn signals are meant to convey information to all of the other drivers about what you’re going to do. I’m sure you’ve seen two drivers try and simultaneously merge into a highway lane, one from the left and one from the right, and then one or both suddenly swerve or brake to avoid a high-speed sideswipe collision.  Why does this happen? Because neither driver had their turn signal on, and so neither one knew that the other driver was planning to merge.

It’s foolishness to assume that other drivers are going to intuit or anticipate your driving behavior. It’s your job as a driver to do everything in your power to make sure everyone else knows what you’re planning to do, including and especially turning or changing lanes. Use your turn signal. And even if the road is empty with not another car for hundreds of yards, use your turn signal anyway4. Make it a habit. You stop at a red light or stop sign5 in the middle of the night for the same reason, so you’ll be conditioned to stop when traffic is very heavy. It’s same reason you put on your seatbelt no matter how short a trip or how slow you’ll be driving. Engage your turn signal whenever you merge or turn, period.

Finally, there’s that selfishness that leads drivers to totally ignore everyone else. You’re driving in your car, in your own world, your car cocoon oblivious or dismissive of everything and everyone else around you. The drivers of others cars are mere abstractions, unknown and barely glimpsed, and therefore they can be ignored. You can talk on the phone or text or fiddle with the radio and if you don’t have a hand free for the turn signal, so be it. If the other cars (and the people in them) aren’t important enough to consider then why bother with the turn signal? You’ve got your own worries, your own places to get to, and your own things to get done. All of the other drivers on the road are just obstacles in your way. There’s no chance that any one of them has anywhere equally important to be or get done, or that their destination is even more important and their timetable even more pressing than yours (that you might be in their way). Get over yourself, put the phone down, pay attention to the road, and engage other drivers on equal terms. Use your turn signal.

The decision-making (or lack thereof), the attitude, the general disregard that leads people to not use their turn signals can be defined by one word, it’s antisocial. You may not be a bad person, but if you fail to use your turn signal you are engaging in bad behavior. If a mark of maturity and wisdom is the ability to empathize and see the world from another’s perspective, then there’s no reason not do the mature, the safe, the smart thing. So please, be an adult and use your turn signal.



1. A practice that I’m sure my girlfriend doesn’t always appreciate. Though she agrees about this whole failure-to-use-the-turn-signal issue.

2. If you drive on the right side of the road like in the U.S.

3. And I suppose you could suggest that inertia, Newton’s law that an object a rest (your arm in this case, and maybe your brain) will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force, comes into play. And that there is an effort to move your hand and engage the turn signal and it doesn’t matter how easy it is, it only matters that an action is required, and it’s the fact of the action and not the amount of energy required that is the key. Easy or hard an action is an action and therefore engaging the turn signal is much more of an effort than I’m giving credit for being. To which I’ll counter that if your energetic enough to make that argument you’re certainly energetic enough to use your turn signal. So use your turn signal and leave Newton out of it.

4. And this applies to other vehicle-operating behaviors like turning on your headlights. It doesn’t matter if you have the night vision of a cat and even in deep twilight can see the vague outlines of the road and cars. What matters is that the normal vision humans driving other cars may not be able to see you. So turn on your headlights for them. Everyone’s safety, yours included, will be enhanced.

5. Assuming of course that you always stop at stop signs, which you should no matter how silly it may seem when no other car is at or approaching the intersection. Heck if you need any reason, do it to avoid getting a ticket from the police officer who you know is just waiting, hidden, to catch you running a stop sign so they can cite you and ruin your day.


  1. Just read this, hilarious! People SHOULD use their turn signal more, but i guess i sometimes don't. Guess I better remember too, i don't want to get honked at or cause an accident

  2. wow, you mean i'm not alone in this world? i totally agree with everything in this.