Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Use turn signal? Why?

$75 TICKET | It's an all-too-common attitude, and it can cost you, cops say

So you're driving along, eyes on the road, when suddenly the car in front of you starts acting weird.

The driver pauses. He weaves a little. He stops. He keeps going. He stops again. Then, suddenly, he turns -- without a turn signal.

These cars were turning from Wacker Drive onto Orleans Street — none of them using a turn signal. An observation of this intersection found that most of the cars that failed to signal were taxis. State Police report a rise in tickets for failure to signal.
(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

Failure of other drivers to use a turn signal is one of the most annoying things on the road, and it may be on the rise, according to the State Police. The officers who patrol the state's highways have been giving out more warnings for improper signal use in the last 2½ years.

Whether or not improper signal use is going up, it's something good drivers have to learn how to deal with, according to Andrew Danek, owner of the 30-year-old Illinois Institute of Driver Education in Chicago.

"If someone's doing something stupid in front of you, they're either turning or they're looking for a place to park," said Danek, who said he figures only about half of local drivers use their signals when they change lanes or turn.

State Police Master Sgt. Brian Ley said officers have been issuing more warnings in the last three years for "improper signal use," which usually means failure to signal. This could mean signaling is on the decline in Illinois, since Ley said police haven't been given any special directive to crack down on violators.

For all of 2006, State Police handed out 16,782 warnings and 2,069 $75 tickets -- a total of 18,851. In 2007, it was 18,089 warnings and 2,075 tickets, for a total of 20,164. The upward trend has continued this year. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, State Police issued 9,553 warnings and 981 tickets -- more than half last year's total.

Failure to use a signal can be a "very serious and deadly mistake," said Ley. "Officers know this can lead to a serious accident."

So why don't people signal? To paraphrase Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic, why are drivers willing to tell you their kid is an honor student at Knucklehead Academy, but they don't want to tell you they're changing lanes?

Danek says some people are afraid that if they signal to change lanes, the car in the next lane will speed up to block their car.

He said it's also a matter of habit -- like buckling your seat belt. Some people aren't taught properly and don't get into the habit of doing it.

He noted that turn signals didn't even become standard in cars until the 1960s -- people who wanted to signal used to have to stick their left arm out the window.

A 2006 survey by Response Insurance, a national car insurer, found that 57 percent of American drivers don't signal when changing lanes. Men are less likely to signal than women, and drivers under 25 are less likely to signal than older drivers. Their reasons were a bit scary:

• • 42 percent said they didn't have time,

• • 23 percent said they were lazy,

• • 17 percent said they don't because they forget to turn it off,

• • 12 percent said they changed lanes too frequently to bother,

• • 11 percent said it was not important,

• • 8 percent said they don't because other drivers don't. And, most disturbing of all,

• • 7 percent skipped the signal to "add excitement" to their trip.

Danek says he teaches his students to signal because it's safer to warn people what you're doing, and anything that makes driving safer is worthwhile.

But Danek also teaches them to be prepared if someone doesn't signal.

"Paying attention is the most important thing about driving," Danek said. "If the car in front of you doesn't have brake lights, does that give you the right to run into them? No!"

Danek said if a driver is paying attention and keeping at least one car's length between her car and the next car, failure of another driver to signal shouldn't be a problem.

"If you drive correctly, what the other person does makes no difference," Danek said. "You are responsible for keeping your car in one piece."

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