The correct use of signals

The correct use of signals

Modern day driving requires an accurate and thoughtful use of signals to communicate our intentions effectively to other road users, to minimise confusion and to help maintain the free flow of traffic. Effective signalling is more involved then just flicking the signal Switch; everything we do when we drive can affect another drivers ability to anticipate our intention.

Learner drivers taking professional training are taught how to effectively use signals as part of the (MSM) Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre routine. To use signals effectively learner drivers must learn when a signal is necessary; learn which signal to give; how to fit it in without interrupting the flow of the steering wheel; how to time the signal to enable other drivers enough time to act upon it and learn when not to signal, i.e when it is misleading or confusing to others’. The main form of signalling that people are accustomed to is the use of the indicators which notify other road users of an intention to change direction. There are of course other forms of signalling which include brake lights, reversing lights, the horn, flashing of headlights plus hand signals and courtesy hand gestures. Even the use of speed and road positioning can reinforce or contradict information given by mechanical signals. These other forms of signalling will be discussed in more detail below.

With regard to mechanical signals, drivers are trained to look well ahead and in the mirrors to determine the correct use of signals before a change of speed or direction, or when it would benefit other road users. Compared to many countries of the world drivers in the UK are more highly trained, safer and more considerate and are able to give and react to signals correctly otherwise they would not have passed the driving test, so why is it that the second biggest complaint amongst drivers, second only to tailgating, is others’ lack of signalling or misleading signalling? Perhaps when someone passes the driving test there is no longer an incentive to think and signal correctly; or is it just pure laziness?

Apart from giving no signals and keeping people guessing what aspects of signalling can be misleading or unnecessary?

  • Moving out around a park car or passing a cyclist – signalling in these situations is unnecessary if the road is wide enough. If there is space to continue safely then gently positioning early towards the centre of the road will allow oncoming traffic time to anticipate and move a little closer to their curb. If moving out around an obstruction requires only a very slight change in position then a signal may mislead others into thinking you were turning or pulling in on the right.
  • Parking on the left just after a side road – signalling left before passing the side road may mislead vehicles appearing at the mouth of the side road into thinking you were turning left and pull out in Front of you.
  • Late signal cancellation – allowing a signal to run for too long can be misleading to others who see your signal once your manoeuvre has taken place. For example, turning left onto a road with a continuous left bend may prevent the steering mechanism from automatically cancelling the left signal. Surrounding traffic will be unsure of your intention.

We can see from these few examples that we can’t expect people to get things right all the time and therefore cannot accept the information we receive from other drivers signals accurately reflects their intention. For this reason it’s important to look for other clues such as speed, positioning, or even where the other driver is looking in order for us to make safe and accurate judgements.

Other forms of signalling

Rear Brake Lights: These are illuminated when the driver presses the brake pedal which notifies the driver behind that you intend to slow down. If you anticipate slowing down and the driver behind is driving too close a gentle pressure can be applied to the brake pedal to illuminate the brake lights without initially engaging the brakes. This provides early notification to the driver behind that you intend to slow down.

The Headlights: Depending on the situation, drivers often flash their headlights to either thank another driver for giving way or to notify another driver that you are giving them priority. It is possible that the flashing of headlights signal could be acted upon by others as well as the driver the signal was intended for with potentially dangerous results. Headlight flashing should only be used to let other drivers know you are there, in place of the horn at night or in a situation where the horn cannot be heard. We can never guarantee headlight flashing from another road user is directed at them so we need to think carefully about how to react.

The Horn: The horn should only be used if you are approaching the situation where another road user may be unaware of your presence; before a sharp bend or before the brow of a hill are two examples.

Arm Signalling: This is old form of signalling is rarely seen today but if used correctly can reinforce a message that you are trying to convey with the direction indicators. Also because they are used so infrequently other drivers are much more likely to take notice.

Hand Gestures: We all like to be appreciated so driver courtesy on the road is very important; it’s always nice to receive a thank you from the driver for whom you gave away. It is also good to use a brief hand gesture to apologise if you inadvertently cause inconvenience. Receiving positive acknowledgement from other drivers helps to maintain good driver attitudes, promotes better consideration for other road users and can make the road is safer place. Courtesy hand gestures can be given by raising the left-hand but it is safer to simply lift the right hand fingers away off the steering wheel for a second or two or even nod your head.

Beckoning: It can be dangerous to use any form of hand gesture to beckon a pedestrian across the road either at a junction or a pedestrian crossing area. A drivers beckoning gesture may cause a pedestrian to feel rushed preventing proper consideration whether it is safe to cross the road and may not be seen by other road users thereby putting the pedestrian at risk. Any facts a driver beckons another road user partly takes responsibility for the safety. In these situations it’s better to slow down, stop and gain contact with the pedestrian and let them decide for themselves what they wish to do.

Road Positioning: Adopting the wrong position in the road for the direction to be taken is giving misinformation which can cause other road users to misread a drivers intension. An example of this could be unnecessary confusion caused to traffic approaching a roundabout upon which a driver is positioned too far to the left (the outside) of the roundabout whilst turning right. Assuming the vehicle is signalling to the right then the signal conflicts with the road positioning which may cause confusion. Assuming the vehicle on the roundabout is not signalling then the position implies the driver is following the road ahead: Not what the vehicles approaching the roundabout might expect. With experience drivers will recognise other subtle clues such as where the driver of the vehicle is looking and where the front steering wheels is pointing?!

Use of Speed: The incorrect use of speed, particularly driving too fast for the situation, reduces the time drivers have to react; it also takes much longer for a motor vehicle to stop. Driving too fast will make it more difficult for a vehicle’s road positioning to correspond to its intended direction; especially on a bend or at a junction where changes in road position are necessary. Imagine a scenario where your vehicle is approaching a small roundabout and preparing to give way. Just before your vehicle reaches the give way line another vehicle approaching the same roundabout from the left exit with a right hand indicator. The speed of this vehicle is a little quick but not excessively fast and it’s position and signal suggests it is taking the exit from which you wish to emerge. As this vehicle enters, turns and negotiates the roundabout its continued speed and position through the roundabout further verifies the exit you think it will take. Having considered the speed and the path of the other vehicle you prepare to go and as you start creeping forward you make a final safety check to the right to make doubly sure it’s safe to go; only to find the other vehicle is turning full circle, positioned very close to be outer edge of the roundabout and about to pass very close to the front of your car. In this scenario the speed and position of the offending vehicle was clearly misleading and could easily have led to an accident. If this accident had occurred whose fault would it have been?

In closing, all drivers are aware of the ‘Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre’ routine, after all it’s stated clearly in the Highway Code. We could break the ‘Mirrors Signal Manoeuvre’ routine down further into ‘Mirrors Signal Position Speed Look Decide and Act’. When you think of it everything we do on the road is based on this routine. The ‘mirrors’ part of the routine is to allow us as drivers to make informed decisions and react safely to what is going on behind and in front of us. The ‘Signal Position and Speed’ part of the routine not only allow us to control our own vehicle and stay safe but also, used correctly, allows other road users to accurately anticipate and react safely to our actions. Drivers who complain about the absence of signalling and other driving related issues, intentionally or not, are probably just as guilty themselves. Safe driving requires a combination of skill, consideration and thought so isn’t it everybody’s responsibility to respect heed and adopt safe driving practices so we can all enjoy the freedom that driving gives us? In answer to the questions above, it is likely to be deemed the fault of the vehicle pulling out onto the roundabout for not quickly assessing the flow of traffic and causing an obstruction!

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