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Driver Safety: Using That Turn Signal

Happy New Year! It occurred to me while driving home in my rental car that I have a few pet peeves about other drivers. I imagine many of us do. I also believe that I am a pretty good, safe driver. I also imagine that many of us do.

I have almost 35 years of driving in Southern California under my belt. In that time, I’ve been responsible for four accidents – once in the rain when I was 17; once on a freeway on ramp when I was 24; once turning against a red light when I was 34 or 35; and, last Friday, when I backed up in a turn lane, into the gentleman waiting behind me. An average of an accident every 8.75 years.

I see traffic laws violated on a daily basis, on the city streets and on the freeway. I thought maybe I’d share my two cents (my pet peeves) about traffic safety and how to be a safer driver for all those folks around us on the road. I imagine some people have become complacent and just follow the examples others set, and others somehow got their licenses out of sheer luck, and just follow the examples other set. Maybe, if more of us set a better, safer example, there will be less stress on the roads and less accidents.

Lesson One: Turn Signals


Every car comes with a set. I think the manuals that come with the vehicles – cars, trucks, motorcycles – call it an indicator light. As in “let me indicate to you that I am going to change lanes or turn.”

How does one use the indicator light? Usually it’s like this: Left Turn, push indicator stick down. Right Turn, push indicator stick up.  You paid for the indicator system when you bought the car. May as well utilize it.

When should one use the turn signal? Whenever one wishes to change lanes, or turn a corner. My son-in-law visited from a less populated city, and mentioned that most people in Southern California signal in the middle of changing lanes, as an afterthought, if they signal at all. He added that allowing the turn signal to blink three times before executing a lane change ensures better odds that the cars around me will see that I plan to change lanes, allowing for a warning to them and an opportunity to respond (either to let me in or speed past me). He was right – that three-blink moment of pause does wonders for my sense of peace, and as a warning to those around me.

I generally use my turn signal every time I am going to change lanes – whether there are cars around me or not. It’s become a habit, and I am less likely to run into another vehicle if we both know what I am about to do.

I get annoyed when another driver doesn’t use their signal and bolts into the lane in front of me. More often I see small, fast cars who think they are in the Indy 500 darting in and out of traffic, endangering themselves and those around them, without use of that turn indicator. I get a small amount of satisfaction when I meet them at the red light ahead.

So – use the turn signals to indicate a lane change, or when turning into a parking lot, or when planning to turn at a signal. Fellow drivers may appreciate it and may even pay it forward.