It’s clear that many people do not understand when, how, and why to employ the turn signals. The complete lack of turn signal use by many people is a well documented phenomenon. Instead, I want to address inappropriate or useless use.

Many people are taught in their drivers education classes that one should signal a lane change by using the appropriate turn signal. What many people fail to understand or remember is that the turn signal should be activated before starting the lane change. Throwing down the turn signal for a few click-blinks when you’re half-way across the center line doesn’t do anyone a lick of good. Once you’re out of your lane, we can see that you’re headed into another lane. There’s no real mystery there. A few quick blinks of your blinker doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know at that point except that you have no idea why and when you should use the device in question.

Similarly, activating a turn signal once you’ve started a ninety-degree turn to the left or right is, again, a waste of effort. Everyone can see that you’re in the midst of a radical change of direction and a few quick flashes of the blinker gives us no new information.

What is lost on many people is that the turn signal is meant to give us a chance to give you feedback to your intended action. For instance, if someone is driving in your blindspot and you throw on a turn signal a few seconds before starting a lane change, the other driver has a few options available to them. They can:

  • Panic
  • Lay on the horn
  • Drop back out of your blind spot
  • Some combination of the above
  • Continue chatting blissfully unaware on their cell phone

In any case, they at least have the option of reacting to your upcoming move before two metal behomoths trade paint at seventy on the Interstate.

That, of course, is the point. A turn signal is supposed to signal your intentions not your current actions. We can all see your current actions; what we want is information about what you’re planning on doing in the near future so we can react appropriately.