By Alisdair Suttie 02 May 2012
Wednesday 2 May 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
How about yakking on a handheld mobile phone rather than keeping your eyes, ears and other senses trained on the road ahead? Yes, it’s a danger, but not the worst offender according to a new study from the Society of Automotive Engineers in the USA.
This august body has carried out an extensive test of real world traffic events and concludes that poor use of indicators is twice as dangerous as distracted driving, which is tech speak for doing something other than concentrating on driving the car properly.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) reckons there are around 750 billion incidents of drivers not using their cars’ indicators in the US alone. That is an astonishing figure and equates to more than 2 billion times a day, every day of the year, when drivers are not making others aware of their intended manoeuvre.
Almost half of the drivers studied (48%) couldn’t be bothered to use an indicator when changing lanes on a motorway or multi-lane carriageway. Considering the speed and often the density of traffic at peak hours, this isn’t just dangerous, it’s downright murderous.
We’ve all experienced the driver ahead of us in another lane who decides they want to be where you are without so much as a brief hint of indicator to tell you their intentions. This is exactly the sort of situation that causes collisions, often with the perpetrator driving on unaffected as others suffer the consequences.
The old line about ‘never been in accident, but seen plenty in the rear view mirror’ was invented for just this type of driver.
However, perhaps even more scary are those who don’t bother to use an indicator at a turn in the road, whether it’s a junction or to pull into or out of a parking space.
Yes, we all should drive defensively and give ourselves as much time and space as possible to allow for such idiots, but the fact is crowded urban roads or narrow country lanes can make this nigh on impossible without ourselves becoming a danger to other road users.
According to the SAE, 25% of drivers don’t use an indicator at junctions. This throws up a number of questions, the prime one being: why? They must have used them when sitting their driving test to gain a pass, so why have they stopped using them?
Bad driving practice and poor habits come into it, but I also suspect there is a large element of these drivers not caring about safe driving and the threat they pose to other drivers.
This driver is the classic ‘sorry mate, I didn’t see you’ moron who will try to make out a collision was as much your fault as his when they’re plainly and wholly in the wrong. Don’t think they can be forgiven with a gentle caution either as this excuse is a commonly heard refrain as a cyclist or motorcyclist lies sprawled on the road around this fool’s car.
Another question this type of driver raises is: why are there half as many who don’t use an indicator at junctions as on multi-lane roads? This clearly shows these drivers think swapping lanes without so much as a thought for other road users is perfectly acceptable yet half of these offenders know to stick an indicator on when turning at a junction.
We can be thankful for the small mercy that at least some of these drivers bother to use an indicator at junctions, but it also demonstrates a lack of knowledge on their part. Even allowing for the idea of not indicating when there is no other traffic around, it’s still good practice to use an indicator at all times as you never know when another vehicle, road user or pedestrian will appear without your knowledge.
To counter this problem and the huge number of collisions it causes every year, the SAE recommends Smart Turn Signals. They use the vehicles sensors and computer brain to not only turn off the indicator but also to remind the driver to use an indicator.
This would work by the car sensing the car’s usage and determining when a driver is not using indicators sufficiently. When the Smart Turn Signal senses this, it will offer the driver a mild warning, much like a seatbelt warning light.
Richard Ponziani, President of RLP Engineering and the author of the SAE’s report, said: “This is a first of its kind report on a subject that amazingly, has never been studied. The turn signal is one of the very original automotive crash prevention devices and this simple driver-to-driver communication device remains extremely effective, but only when it is accurately displayed as required by law.
“The turn signal can no longer be considered “optional” and all drivers have an ongoing duty to use it, just as they have a duty to stop at a stop sign or at a red light. Smart Turn Signals are the perfect complement to the Stability Control System since Stability Control predominately prevents single-vehicle crashes, whereas the Smart Turn Signal prevents multi-vehicle crashes.”
Education and enforcement
Obviously, there are some differences in US law compared to UK law, where the Highway Code says indicators should be used to give clear signals to other road users before changing course or direction, stopping or moving off. In other words, just about every manoeuvre you’re likely to make in a car.
While the idea of Smart Turn Signals sounds like a great way of addressing this menace, there is a more effective one. The fault of not using the indicator lies clearly and solely with the driver of the vehicle. We don’t need another lump of technology in our cars to ensure the indicators are operated at the correct moments.
What we need is better driver education and more stringent enforcement of these infringements. While it might seem petty for the police to concern themselves with this type of poor driver behaviour, it sends out a clear message to all drivers that bad driving standards will not be tolerated.
In turn, this message will improve driving standards across the board and show up that hardcore of abysmal drivers who cannot be bothered with the most basic of safety signals. Rather than trying to treat the symptoms with Smart Turn Signals, let’s treat the cause and we will all reap the benefits of fewer collisions and lower insurance premiums.
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