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September 10th 2019

Do you always signal when driving – and does it help or hinder others on the roads?

Do you always signal when driving – and does it help or hinder others on the roads?

Over the years I have regularly heard many people who have been involved in an accident on the roads argue about the importance of signalling – often bemoaning that a lack of signal was the cause of their crash.

Over the years I have regularly heard many people who have been involved in an accident on the roads argue about the importance of signalling – often bemoaning that a lack of signal was the cause of their crash.

Of course, the correct use of signalling is a key part of safe driving, and many are firmly of the belief that they should be used for everything, from turning and passing to slowing down or taking any deviation.

Others take a more pragmatic view that they should be used when they can give a clear signal of intent.

The simple fact is that a signal needs to both make other road users aware of your intended manoeuvre, and make it clearer – and therefore safer – to all others as to what your next move will be.

The Highway Code states that direction signals have the following specific meanings;

  • I intend to move to the right or I intend to turn right.
  • I intend to move in to the left, I intend to turn left, or I intend to stop on the left.

The signals can have no other meanings, and should never be assumed to be giving the driver an automatic right of way (although many seem to believe this).

Rule 103 of the Highway Code states that ‘signals warn and inform other road users, including pedestrians of your intended actions’.

It states that you should always;

  • Give clear signals in plenty of time, having checked it is not misleading to signal at that time.
  • Use them to advise other road users before changing course or direction, stopping or moving off.
  • Cancel them after use.

Road traffic accidents are caused by badly timed and confusing signals too

Many experienced drivers may well refer to their days of learning and say that they were taught to signal for everything and anything regardless, and to a certain degree they would be right.

I often get asked to look into the circumstances of crashes where there has been an allegation of a direction signal not being given, thereby making it a contributing factor to the cause of the crash.

However, a poorly given or incorrectly timed signal can also play a major part in causing confusion and become a misleading source of information for others on the roads, which in turn can and does become a primary cause of an accident.

Road users also have a habit in assuming that any signal they see is both correctly given and accurate, which in turn leads to many drivers making decisions based on the information they are given, for example when pulling out of a junction.

How many times have you heard someone say “I pulled out because the car was indicating to turn left” when it transpired that the driver either forgot to cancel the signal or it was meant for a hazard further down the road?

How many times when on a motorway have you seen a vehicle suddenly pull out from the left hand lane into an outside lane and gives no more than a token one or two flashes of a signal once they are already committed to the manoeuvre?

One of the most common involving motorcycles is where the rider has been filtering close to a junction on the right (which is another issue), only for a car to then indicate and turn right in one movement into the junction, causing a collision between the car and the motorcycle.

In many cases the car driver will feel that they are blameless because they gave a signal, and many seem to think the simple fact they turned on their directional signal gives them carte blanche to then carry out the turn, completely ignoring the fact that they have a duty of care to check it is safe first.

I could give countless examples of where drivers have given pointless and meaningless signals, and sadly it has become the norm for many to signal on automatic pilot, without giving much thought to whether it has been done at the right time, the right position, and the possible consequences their actions may have.

Consider your signals and follow the ‘four flash’ rule to give others time to react

So, what can you do to make things safer and reduce your potential liability in the event of a crash?

Firstly make sure your signals will not confuse others.

If, for instance, you want to stop in a lay by just beyond a junction on your left, wait until you are at least level with the junction before applying the signal.  If you signal earlier it may give the impression that you intend to turn into the road.  Consider using an old fashioned arm signal to emphasise or reinforce your signal if necessary.

Ask yourself a few simple questions;

  • Can I give a good signal in good time?
  • Can I give a good signal with the correct meaning of intent?
  • Is there anyone who will benefit from the signal I am considering giving, and would my signal confuse that person or cause doubt?

If the answer to all three is no, then consider that it may be safer not to give a signal at all rather than a poorly timed or incorrect signal.

As a rule of thumb, follow the ‘four flash’ rule and look to ensure your indicator is timed so the lamp flashes at least four times before the hazard, thereby giving other road users time to react to the signal you have given.

I am not for one second advocating not using your signals, but I am simply suggesting that instead of blindly indicating for everything and anything, you can use the advanced drivers’ favourite word of “consider” where and when you use them.

You may find that not only do you reduce the number of times you apply your indicator, when you do it will have greater meaning, and that may prove the difference between being involved in a crash and held even partially liable for the cause.

Remember that signalling does not give you priority – it is a way of telling others what you intend to do.

Heading into the holiday season, when there will be many drivers and riders on roads in areas that may be unfamiliar to them, ensuring the basic task of signalling is completely correctly and appropriately could have a big impact on reducing accidents and injuries.

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