You are approaching from a side street. The car in front of you is slowing down. Will they spin? Do they let you know? It’s about whether the driver in front of you will be courteous enough to alert anyone behind him that a turn is imminent. Sometimes the driver turns on the signal just as he is in the bend. Seriously, you let me know now that you’re touring. Your front wheels are already around the corner.
Then there is the opposite. The driver who changes lanes on the freeway and is kind enough to let you know he does. Only now their turn signal is flashing, flashing, flashing miles down the road.
Some drivers, when entering the highway, turn on their turn signal. I don’t know why they do that, maybe they’re the ones always using their turn signal. But you don’t really have to tell me that you’re coming my way; it’s the only place you can go.
In the past, drivers used hand signals (the five fingers) to indicate that they were turning. An outstretched arm out the window meant a left turn; bend your arm at the elbow upwards and you turn to the right; bend your elbow down and you would slow down. Of course, in cold climates with bad weather, it became a bit of a chore. But that’s how many of us learned in driving school or high school. Cyclists still use these hand signals to make their intention known to others, as do some motorcyclists.
All cars today are equipped with turn signal levers. They are on the left side of the steering column. So convenient, yet seemingly so remote for many drivers. Why can’t drivers inform others around them that they are changing direction?
According to anymotor.com, the first turn signal was patented in 1925 but automakers didn’t care. But by 1940, directional signals “became standard on Buick, Cadillac, Hudson, and LaSalle vehicles and available (at a cost of $7.95) on Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac.” The use of turn signals is a courtesy to other motorists and a safe driving practice. We have enough distracted drivers on our roads without some of us disturbing others.
Of course, many of us distract others with how we drive and what we do while driving. Driving erratically is often a signal to other motorists that the person driving is intoxicated. This deficiency may be due to alcohol or drugs. But most often, it is due to the use of the mobile phone. Holding a phone in one hand, or better yet two texting, is a surefire way to distract the driver enough to start driving erratically. Anyone behind the driver can see that he’s not in control, that he’s not paying attention. When you’re behind a vehicle over 4,000 pounds, not paying attention has deadly consequences. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 43,000 people died on American roads last year.
But cell phone use isn’t the only distraction that keeps drivers from concentrating on their most important task: driving safely. Drivers were seen playing the trumpet, brushing their teeth, eating and drinking, reading the newspaper, playing video games and taking handwritten notes, among other activities.
Some people think they can multitask behind the wheel, but for those of us behind you, we know it’s different. You speed up, most likely after you send the text or finish your drink, then slow down when you write one or take your trumpet. You weave from side to side of the lane, leaving us wondering if you’re going to crash into us. You cross several lanes so as not to miss the exit that you hadn’t noticed because your eyes weren’t on the road. The examples are countless. But the results are often tragic. Do you want to be the one who kills a family of five because you were distracted? Do you want to send a teenager through a life of pain and suffering and many surgeries only to leave him paralyzed for life because of your behavior?
Sometimes it’s not what the driver does that distracts us, it’s what’s in his vehicle; for example, a skeleton in the passenger seat (which was seen in a bank drive-thru lane on Halloween) or a dog hanging its head out the window (dangerous on so many levels). Additional distractions that affect other drivers include spitting out the window, throwing trash out the window, and dodging flying debris from pickup trucks.
Courtesy on the highway means that we pay attention to each other so as not to create an avoidable accident. By focusing solely on driving behind the wheel and following proper driving etiquette, such as using your turn signals, you will protect everyone who travels our roads, including yourself.