Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Case for Turn Signals

Recently (and by "Recently", I mean "Every day") I was driving and found myself behind a car that was headed into the left-hand turning lane. I knew this only from my combined depth and width perception. It was obviously going a different direction than "straight". As I approached the car, I was greeted with a blinking light on its left rear side. What is that, you say? Oh, that's a turn signal? It's as if the driver was letting the world know, "Hey, I'm turning left!" - except it wasn't. It was more the driver proclaiming "Hey, I'm making this light flash because I probably should let you know, if you didn't already, that I'm about to veer off this road and head elsewhere." In this case (and by "this case" I suppose I mean "this case", although it applies about half the time, if not way less), I was far enough behind the car that I didn't need to brake or swerve suddenly. But other times - too many to count - it doesn't seem to be that way. It isn't that way. And it's annoying. And it's really, really dangerous. Here's why: Turn signals are exactly what they say: signals. They are not connected to the other functions of a vehicle and can be triggered with very little effort. Their effect on those driving behind (and to the side and in front, which I'll get to later) are pretty minimal in physical response, but extremely maximal in mental response and preparation. The turn signal tells drivers to prepare for something more. Prepare to brake. Prepare to give me time, as I may not be able to get out of your way to make my way off this road. Prepare to give me space, which could trigger a domino effect with other cars to follow. The turn signal is something so small and insignificant to the driver using it, but is something very substantial to those outside of your car's zone. Outside of your zone. Your safe place. Your head, even. It's telling the other drivers in the public system that we call "roads" that you are only a small part of but carry a big responsibility towards that there is something that is going to happen that we all need to be aware of. Now let's go back to this example, and by "example" I mean "every time someone misuses or completely ignores their turn signal". Unless you're Michael Knight or one of the Dukes of Hazard, it's a fact that drivers need to slow down to make a turn. What does this entail? Braking. Lowering your speed from what it once was. Well, guess what? Again, unless you're an 80s TV character, chances are you're driving at a pretty steady pace. If someone brakes in front of you without letting you know, i.e., signalling, well, that can be pretty difficult to discern if you're not able to predict where everyone else on the road is going. Sure, we pass intersections. Sure, we approach turning lanes. But I got news for you. The rules of thumb on the road that include "right of way" also presume that everyone is driving straight on the road they're on. This is where the turn signal comes in. Let's go through some simple scenarios and you tell me which one is ideal for everyone involved, shall we? 1. Hit the brake, then turn, then put on your signal. 2. Hit the brake, put on your signal, then turn 3. Signal, brake, turn. I'd say most people do number 2 on a regular basis. They equate the "turn signal" with "turning". I get it. It's in the name. Why do I need to let anyone know I'm about to turn until I do? Well, that's dumb. Let's go back to scenario 1 to further ridulous-ize this theory. Brake, turn, then signal? Really? You might as well punch me in the face while your apologizing. Hey, as long as you got it out there, we're good. Except, NO. The point of the signal is to prepare, y'all! Prepare us all to make way for you to leave our status quo driving situation. And in today's society, where everyone seems to want attention, shouldn't we be chomping at the bit to alert everyone of our intentions? Except we're not, because preparation is not in our DNA. It's something we have to work on. It's something that we always seem to realize is a great thing to do only in hindsight. Let alone preparing to prepare others to make preparations to prepare? Again, this goes back to society - especially today's society. There's so much going on in the world that we tend to bring it into our cars with us. We're texting, we're listening to music, we're listening to podcasts with our earbuds in despite having the privacy of our own cars to cancel out that need, we're looking at our GPS, reading something on our phones, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseam, et cetera, e pluribus unum, etc. We barely have enough time for ourselves, let alone anyone else. But here's the thing - it's not our private road. Public, public, public. Sure, we have the freedom to go wherever we want, but so does everyone else. And I got news for you - there's always everyone else on the road. It's a turn signal, and that's what we learned it was called in driver's ed. Well, guess what? It's really a brake signal. It's something to tell those behind you that it's time to interrupt the constant speed you've attained and slow down for others. It's really a courtesy signal. It's something to tell those coming the opposite way that you're about to make a turn and they need to adjust their route accordingly, be it by slowing down themselves or even going onto the road you're coming from. It's a traffic signal. It allows for others to modify and adjust so that they can fill in the empty spaces and adapt to a new traffic flow. Sure, we may not consider others on the road. We may even be afraid to tell them "Hey, I'm committing to this maneuver". But these foibles have no place on the road if we all expect to rid our world of accidents and road rage (which cause more accidents). It's time to resurrect the turn signal to its fullest extent. Be proud to use it. Use it in excess, as it doesn't use up battery life and gas (to my knowledge). When you're in the public driving domain, you need to be aware of and courteous towards your fellow drivers. Allow them to prepare and make way and give space. Because you got things to do - whether in your car or most likely outside of it. Let's not make going to the auto repair man or the hospital one of those things.