“This isn’t any signal. It’s a direct statement. If it’s a signal, fine.” – George H. W. Bush, as reported in New York Times, Mar 10, 1980, p B10
By a funny coincidence, we’ll be talking about the exact same thing.
On every car that I have been in, there is a stick coming out of the left-hand side of the car’s steering column which I’m certain is gathering dust in some people’s cars. It’s the lever that operates the turn signals, otherwise more cleverly – and properly – known as “directional indicators”, on account of they’re for indicating which direction you intend to take your car next. And that’s the whole key right there. Until you use your turn signals (I’ll use “turn signals” if it makes everyone happier, until I have a point to make), people are going to expect that you’re going to continue doing what you’re doing, especially if what you’re doing is just driving along at a steady speed in the lane in which you’re currently traveling. [And unless otherwise indicated, and as will be the usual standard for this series of posts, it is assumed that the roads are clear and dry and the weather conditions are favorable for driving. So none of these, “What if it’s raining?” retorts. We’ll cover that another time.]
And that brings us to a good tip about using turn signals. There’s a right way to indicate to the driver behind you (let’s call him “Me”) that you’re about to do something other than what you’ve been doing the past several miles, and there’s the way too many of you who live near me have been doing it to the driver behind you (“Me”). The trick is to remember what the purpose of the turn signal is. (I’ll give you hint: It has to do with “indicating” a “direction”.) As most of you are aware, humans are not normally able to read other people’s minds. So if you decide that you want to change lanes, or take the exit off the highway, or turn into a parking lot or driveway, the odds are good that you will be slowing down or speeding up, and that being the case, it’s certain that the people around you (“Me”) have no clue what you’re about to do. So we ought to have some indication that things are about to change. Don’t you think? I mean, who really likes it when the guy just ahead and to your right decides he wants to slide into your lane right in front of you without telling you ahead of time he was going to do that? I know I don’t, which is why I don’t do it to others. (It’s am important rule that people with my religious beliefs try to employ. You might say it’s Golden to us. Except we don’t expect a reward after we’re dead for following it.) That leads us to the next driving rule:
Wayne’s Driving Rule #2
The correct sequence for making a lane change or a turn off onto an exit or into a driving way or parking lot is:
1. Turn on signal (the correct one)
2. Appropriately apply brakes or speed up
3. Change lanes or make turn
1-2-3. Not 2-1-3. Not 2-3-1. And certainly not 3-2-1. It’s 1-2-3. Now, you may ask, “How much time should I allow between Steps 1 and 2?” In fact you should ask it. Go ahead. Ask it. I’ll wait.
I’m glad you asked. Experts disagree. New York State law requires you to have your signal on for at least the last one hundred feet before making the actual maneuver, but I say that’s too short a time. At 60 MPH, you are traveling 88 feet every second. (You are also driving too slowly and could cause traffic to come to a stop behind you on the highway, but we’re going to cover that next week.) So it only takes you about 1.136 seconds to travel 100 feet. And if the driver behind you (“Me”) was to be driving at a hypothetical speed of 80 MPH, he would travel 100 feet in a little over 0.85 seconds. I have quick reflexes, but that that quick. So rather than using distance to determine how far ahead to apply your signal, I say you should use time. You should apply your signal at least five seconds ahead of when you intend to make your move (assuming you aren’t swerving out the way to avoid something in the road, such as the debris from the car at which I fired one of my nerd-designed missiles), but no more than ten seconds. If you leave it on more than ten seconds, it’s quite probable that everyone, including yourself, will forget that it’s on. But the main thing is to avoid flipping it on at literally the last moment, even though that’s what New York State law allows.
You see, it really doesn’t do anybody any good if you wait until you’ve already hit the brakes and started turning your wheel to flip on the turn signal telling the driver behind you (“Me”) that you’re about to make a turn, when the fact that you are in the process of making that turn already gave it away. How much help do you think flipping on the signal last is going to do? The purpose of a directional indicator is to indicate to the people around you which direction you intend to go, not which direction you already started going. The only good applying it after you made your move does is to confirm that, yes, you don’t know how to drive properly. The fact that you were probably taught to drive by your parents, who didn’t know how to drive, either, is the reason our car insurance rates are so high. The fact that driving has become such an essential part of American life is reason enough to require all future drivers be taught by professionals, not by someone who leaves the turn signal on for ten miles. No, if you already have your license you will be grandfathered in, even if you’re a grandfather.
And by all means, do use that signal if you’re doing anything that would come across as “unexpected” to the non-psychic behind you (“Me”). That includes pulling over to the side of the road. That would be one of those excellent occasions where some way of telling the guy behind you (“Me”) that he can swing around you and get on with his life would be appreciated. It’s just like you’re turning into a driveway, except you’re not actually turning into a driveway. But you still have to put on the signal (I’m guessing it’s going to be to the right), then apply the brakes, then slide off to the side of the road, preferably far enough off so that your car won’t be sticking out into the lane. That reminds me. Why do so many people think they don’t need to use their turn signals if they’re taking a right-hand exit off the highway, or moving into the lane to their right, or making a right-hand turn at an intersection? You still have to let the enraged maniac behind you (“Me”) know what you intend to do, especially if it’s going to involve slowing down, which I’m pretty sure that guy behind you (“Me”) doesn’t want to do.
But you know, turn signals aren’t just for indicating a complete change in direction (such as perpendicular to the one you were going). They’re also good for letting the cars around you driving at speeds in excess of 65 MPH (and the legal speed limit) that you’re considering cutting over in front of the car moving up swiftly in the lane to your left (“Me”). Now, in these cases, it isn’t always necessary to hit the brakes, but you still want to turn on that signal a few seconds before you make the actual maneuver. Again, once your car has already swung over in front of mine, causing me to either brake fiercely, swear loudly, crap pungently, or perhaps some combination of all three, what’s the goddamn point of putting on your turn signal then? It’s not like you’re preparing me for something. The best thing is to glance in your side view (and rear view) mirrors, turn your head to check your blind spot, hit the signal, then wait a beat or two before making your move. And for crying out loud, if you’re going to move over into a lane of traffic that’s going faster than you were, do hit the gas and speed up. (Remember Wayne’s Driving Rule #1.) Otherwise there was no point in moving over in front of the impatient asshole coming up hard on your ass (“Me”).