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“Common sense is not so common.” The French writer and historian Voltaire is credited with the origins of this phrase and though I’m fairly certain he was not talking about 18th century traffic safety, it applies perfectly to many of the problems we all see on U.S. roads these days.
This month I’d like to talk about one of the most dangerous driving behaviors I see every day; drivers not using their turn signals.
Many drivers I see these days are not using turn signals or they are not using them correctly. Perhaps if we were all part of a “psychic network” then maybe we wouldn’t need turn signals, but we are not, and we do need to use them.
Very recently, I was driving on a 55 mph limit, very rural, two-lane undivided highway when I saw two vehicles driving toward me. They were a little over a quarter mile away when I saw them. I noticed the lead vehicle of the two starting to slow down for no apparent reason without using a turn signal. The rear vehicle was gaining quickly and began adjusting its speed. I lifted off my gas pedal and covered the brake pedal, as I wasn’t sure what might happen. The lead car had now almost come to a stop, directly in the middle of the lane, and the rear vehicle was very close behind. There were no intersections visible, just house driveways on the left and right side of the road. The lead vehicle still had no turn signal on.
I was less than 200 yards away when the rear vehicle suddenly made a move to the left to pass the now almost stationary lead vehicle; entering my lane in the process. The rear driver had assumed the vehicle ahead would eventually turn right into a driveway. At almost the same instant, the lead car also started to turn left, to enter an opposite driveway. Suddenly realizing the other car was now side by side with them, both vehicles jammed on the brakes. My lane was now completely blocked by two vehicles, with both drivers making hand gestures at each other.
Back in my world as an aware and non-distracted driver, I knew I had no vehicle behind me and had easily brought my vehicle to a stop about 50 feet from the incident. Unbelievably, the driver who was following then got out of his car and started yelling. Another person in his vehicle seemed to point in my direction and say something that caused him to get back in. That driver then sped off, seemingly not a happy camper. The other vehicle continued turning left into their driveway. I then continued on my way, with a much better understanding of why reality TV is so addicting to many.
This whole mess was started by someone not using a turn signal. It was then compounded by someone losing patience with the situation. Certainly, there was fault on both sides, and if I had been driving distracted, this could have resulted in a completely needless head-on collision.
If you know you have a turn coming up, please activate your turn signal before you even lift off the gas or start to brake. If you see your turn is very sharp, such as pulling into a strip mall, gas station or driveway, then put the signal on earlier and lift off the gas sooner. Using a signal earlier allows you to reduce speed more slowly and gives drivers behind more time to see your signal and react. This is especially critical these days, because there is a very good chance the driver behind you could be distracted.
Reducing speed over a longer distance also gives you more time to assess whether the driver behind you is slowing down or not. Having more time to assess the situation means you have a better chance to take action and avoid being rear ended by a distracted driver. Another area where signal use needs improvement is lane changes. Many drivers who don’t use signals to change lanes also don’t use their mirrors correctly, increasing the odds of a crash. If you are going to make a lane change, first check your mirrors then turn your head to check over your shoulder, to see what vehicles are in or may soon enter the space where you want to move. Then, turn on your signal and continue checking the mirrors. Never do the simultaneous glance, signal and go for lane changes, it’s a sure recipe for disaster.
Drivers not using turn signals is sadly another symptom of the U.S. distracted driving epidemic. In my experience, most drivers who manipulate or hold phones don’t use turn signals. It’s pretty tough to operate the turn signal while your head and hands are focused on your smartphone. Distracted drivers need to start choosing everyone else’s safety over their own phone use.
I speak to driver education teachers all the time and they tell me it takes less than five minutes driving with a new student driver to realize how their parents drive. They tell me one of the most common problems they see is students not using turn signals. The most common answer from students when asked why: they never saw their parents use them. Your children are learning driving habits and behaviors whenever they travel with you in the vehicle. Parents are and always will be the biggest influence on their children’s driving, so be sure to set the safest example for your child’s sake.
We have turn signals in vehicles for a reason, please use them.
Take care out there everyone.
DriveitHOME™ is an initiative of the National Safety Council, designed by and for parents of newly licensed teen drivers. DriveitHOME™ offers free resources parents can use to help their teen build experience to become safer drivers.