The Mighty Signal Light

A signal light

A number of years ago I was driving to a friend’s house for the first time. As we were both departing work, she suggested I just follow her car. Following her was not so easy in busy rush hour traffic because she never used her turn signal lights! Not once in a 30-minute drive. I was aghast. This is one of the fundamental basics of safe driving. The signal light is the one tool a driver can use to indicate presence, position, and change in direction of travel. It is the Miss Manners of driving! Needless to say, I did feel I had to point this out to her, not only for her own safety but for everyone else’s. I am happy to say her driving habits changed. And we are still friends!

This memory got me thinking about the small but mighty signal light. Over the last week I have not only paid peripheral attention to drivers’ signaling habits, but really focused on the dynamics and psychology of signaling. Again, I am aghast. It is appalling to see how many drivers do not use the signal lights for their benefit and safety.

So many drivers just don’t bother to signal.

Is it lazy behavior, lack of attention, concern for others, or just pure stupidity? The best one was at a busy intersection where I was trying to navigate a left turn (another Vancouver intersection with no advance green traffic light), with a bus bearing a left in the opposite direction in the outside lane, and a very large Cadillac SUV with a right turning signal illuminated, also in the opposite lane. Legally, the driver can turn right into the inside lane and I can turn left into the outside lane as long as it is safe to do so. As I start to proceed slowly into my left turn, she hits the gas and goes straight – still with her right turn signal on. And then she flips me the bird. Am I to read that drivers’ mind?

Driving is dynamic and takes a lot of coordination; we all change our minds mid-stream, but please be present and attentive to what you are communicating to other drivers.

My small observation study also brought to my attention the differences in the color of signal lights. Some are red, some are amber, some are solid and some sort of flash or rotate. After some research it seems that car manufacturers have to comply with certain technical standards regarding intensity levels, angles of visibility and minimum illuminated surface area, and the color can be red or amber for rear signals. But why two different colors? Front signals are always yellow, so wouldn’t it make more sense to have amber color designated as the turn signal color for rear signals? Red means stop – good for brake lights, and amber for caution. I did find a very interesting discussion forum on the merits of red or amber signal lights. What do you think is a safer color? What gets your attention?

Vote now:

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