Think of others and signal your intentions

By Norman Knight

I’m sitting at the stoplight in the Target parking lot waiting to turn left (south). The light changes to green. The first car facing me turns south, and I see a pick-up truck coming from much farther back.

If I knew what he was planning, I could make my turn. Only by the time the truck gets to the intersection do I learn the driver intends to turn south also.

“Gee, you would think turn signals would come standard on an expensive truck like that,” I sigh under my breath.

I admit it: My pet peeve — well, one of them — is people who don’t use turn signals. Turn signal scofflaws are as common as post-winter potholes, but at least there is an excuse for those annoyances. OK, I suppose on occasion there will be a turn signal malfunction, but come on, even without a scientific survey to back me up, it seems reasonable to conclude that something else is going on when turn signals aren’t.

What else?

I will try to be generous.

Maybe the driver is distracted by the radio or noisy kids or some other interruption. Fine. I’ve been there. Maybe it is a wandering mind, a lack of focus on the primary task at hand which is, after all, driving the car. Yes, I also have spaced out while behind the wheel.

Or maybe it is simply a lack of consideration for the other drivers on the road. I hope I am wrong here, but I fear self-centeredness is becoming more and more the rule of the road.

It’s a troubling state of affairs. I’ll bet Florence Lawrence is spinning in her grave — after turning on her signal, of course.

I am referring to Florence Lawrence the silent movie actress, the “Biograph Girl” (some say she was the first true “movie star”) who in 1914 developed the turn signal. “I have invented an ‘auto-signaling arm’ which, when placed on the back of the fender, can be raised or lowered by electrical push buttons,” she told an interviewer in 1920. Unfortunately she never patented her invention and so never realized any profits from it.

Others, however, did develop and patent devices for signaling turns throughout the 1920s and 30s. In 1939 Buick made turn signals a standard feature on its automobiles.

By the 1950s turn signals were standard features on nearly all new American cars. In 1968, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 standardized the color of turn signals: amber for the front; red or amber for the rear signals. If you are driving a car without turn signals, the driver’s left arm becomes the signal: straight out the window for a left turn; up for a right turn; pointed toward the ground for braking. I don’t see that signaling technique much anymore except occasionally by bicyclists.

These days when I see a driver’s arm out the window, he is usually signaling with a single digit.

Indiana state law requires drivers to signal 200 feet before they make a turn. This has caused some confusion in Carmel, Indiana, which has more roundabouts — 97 — than any other American city. Mayor Jim Brainard is pushing for a law requiring drivers to use signals when exiting a roundabout. However, most roundabouts are less than 200 feet. Hence the dilemma.

From where I sit in my car seat, the primary problem with roundabouts is that many drivers still aren’t sure how they work. It is a learning curve, I guess. Or maybe a learning circle.

I’m not sure there is an easy answer to the problem of turn signal scofflaws. The police seem to be busy enough with other, more serious offenses. It would help if we all could be more focused on what we are doing while we are doing it as well as being more considerate of other. I suppose that’s good advice for most areas of life.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.