When Do We Most Likely Skip The Turn Signals?

You must have seen it. Cars weaving through four lanes of traffic without any signals whatsoever to notify other cars of their lane changing, or you’re trying to cross the street but the closest car suddenly makes a turn towards you without letting you know it’s turning. Or, you probably have committed these sinful and shameful acts. So many of us have, consciously or not. And if you are a strict law abiding driver, you might be surprised as to the common reasons why people might decide not to use their turn signals for turning and changing lanes, despite knowing better.  

(Lame) Reasons Why People Don’t Use The Turn Signal

You Do Signal With Left Turns, But Right Turns? Meh

turn signal
We are more negligent in signaling right turns than left turns, since it’s less dangerous. Photo credit: YourMechanic

Not signaling while making a left turn is obviously dangerous, so the vast majority of drivers are actually law abiding citizens when it comes to signaling left turns. In fact, a 2013 turn signal study by Harold Faw at Canada’s Trinity Western University found that 94.8 percent of the vehicles in British Columbia properly signaled when making a left turn, and from a dedicated left turning lane at that. 

This makes sense. When turning left, you need to let the people behind you know early on that you’re slowing down and potentially stopping in the middle of the road to cut across or making a U-turn, which can be a major disruption to the flow of traffic. In addition, you need to notify the opposing traffic that you’re about to cut across. Left turning signal is even more important at a four-way intersection, since you’d need to give the crossing pedestrians a heads up as well.

In comparison, right turns are not as dangerous and traffic-disrupting. In fact, in Harold Faw’s study, people did not signal right turns as consistently as left turns, and the group with the lowest right-turn signal rate at only 74 percent were pickup trucks. But remember that this kind of (lame) reasoning won’t save you from getting a ticket for not signaling.


You’re Already In The Right Turn Lane and Following Other Cars

In the same study conducted by Harold Faw, another strong motivator for not putting on the turn indicators was uncovered. Faw found that at the same intersection in British Columbia, drivers who were back in a long line in a dedicated right turning lane and were following closely a car in front of them were 7 percent less likely to signal a right turn than drivers making a turn with no other car in front of them.

Many folks might think that since they were pulling up behind a long line of cars in a dedicated right turn lane, it’s obvious that all the nearby vehicles should know that they’re going to make a right turn. That makes signalling unnecessary. Okay, that line of reasoning is not that lame, but remember that there might be pedestrians crossing too. So be careful or you might run over a pedestrian who assumed you were going straight because you didn’t turn your indicator on.

Nobody’s Around On That Local Road

This is something so many of us are guilty of. Sometimes we deliberately turn without any signaling, other times we simply forget to when we’re driving on a local road with some 25-mph speed limit and not a single soul is in sight. This human-nature habit is confirmed by an extensive turn signal study led by John Sullivan of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Its results establish that drivers are more likely to remember to turn on their signal and in general drive more properly when there are other cars around.

The study found that drivers driving on a low-traffic local road in their own neighborhood are almost five times less likely to signal, compared to while driving on a regular-traffic major road.

While you might be confident that you’re familiar with the traffic around your neighbourhood, and you might be aware of every single blind spot from your house to the grocery, not using the turn signals is unexpectedly unsafe. Statistics shared by the automobile insurer Esurance reveal that more crashes tend to happen within just 25 miles or 40 kilometers from your home. In addition, more serious and fatal accidents take place on clear rural country roads than busy urban roads.

One important driving tip to better make sure you won’t forget to turn your indicator on when you absolutely need to is to always, always turn it on when you’re making a turn or changing lanes, even when there’s really no one around and you’re driving very slowly. Doing so even when you’re don’t really need to will create a solid habit and might save your life and others in the future. 

You Want to Cut Others Off

When roads are congested, many drivers are tempted to deliberately block other cars who might be trying to enter their lane in front of them while trying to quickly slip into another lane before anyone would block their access. To do this, they might purposely not use their turn signals so that they could quickly change lanes without missing a heartbeat. Now this reason is not just lame, it’s also mean as hell. 

You’re Too Lazy to Turn The Signal Off

We too many a time are simply too lazy to turn the signal on, since too many a time we forget to turn it off, unless our car beeps non stop until we actually turn it off. Since the 1940s, a mechanism has been built into the steering column, so that once you have completed a turn, the steering column will make a mechanical “click” and it automatically shuts off the turn signal. But that mechanical switch only works for unmistakable turns, and is not that sharp with detecting lane changing or merging into traffic on the highway. That is probably the reason why you sometimes see the car ahead of you having the left turn signal on for the last 10 miles or so.

In a 2006 survey by Response Insurance, 17 percent of participants admitted to not signaling claim that they often forget to turn it off, so they deliberately skip the signalling to save the hassle of having to turn it off right after. 

In an attempt to help these forgetful drivers, Richard Ponziani, an Ohio veteran automotive engineer, has invented and patented a software called Intelliturn. It tells a vehicle’s computer when the car has completed a turn and automatically turns off the signal, instead of relying on the mechanical “click” of the steering column. This software has actually been licensed by Ford in many of its SUVs and pickups.