Posted on September 11, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 143 Comments
It is entirely possible — and some would say actually advisable! — to employ one’s turn signal before the very last possible instant.
Please learn this before I have to destroy your car, which I have very nearly rear-ended, with a rocket launcher.
This is an issue way more wide spread than the midwest. Growing up in and living all around New England, I can attest we do it here as well, especially at high speeds while tailgating.
I am so jealous that you are in a place where people actually use a turn signal *at all*. Though it is getting a lot better here in Korea it is still believed by far too many (and often passed down from older drivers to new ones) that you should never signal your lane changes because someone might speed up to keep you from getting in front of them. People signal for actual turns a bit more often, but still not all that often.
I get on my husband constantly because he does the exact opposite – runs his blinker for a good two or three minutes before he turns – during which time we pass half a dozen places he /might/ be turning, but does not.
My rule of thumb is to put your blinker on a few seconds before you must begin to slow down.
Alas, I live in Upstate NY, and this is a constant problem here too. If they signal at all.
As a corollary, in places in which there is a turning lane, one may feel free to enter it before the last possible instant before actually turning.
I’m sorry but people actually USE those where you come from? Wow. How novel. And they work? I sometimes think they take them off at the dealership once they arrive in Maine.
I’m of the mindset that everyone should get one freebie a year. One no questions asked deployment of a vehicle-to-vehicle missile to…encourage…responsible driving.
Well, here in Georgia, people usually turn on the turn signal AFTER THE TURN IS FINISHED – they’ll tell you WHERE THEY JUST TURNED! (George Carlin once did a routine on this phenomenon) Like in Korea, turning on the signal *before* the turn will enable other drivers to cut you off in spite, so it’s better to be a sneakyfucker about your turns.
Either that or there’s an epidemic of people being out of blinker fluid … O.o
I am convinced that if Dante Alighieri has lived in DC, he would have created a special circle in Hell for people who wait through an entire cycle of a traffic light, pull into the intersection when the light turns green, come to a complete stop in the middle, and then and only then do they put their left turn signal on.
This phenomena is not unique to the midwest. I have lived all over this country and through experience I have discovered that a substantial portion of the driving population appears to be under the delusion that the operation of an automobile turn signal causes cancer. Such beliefs are not supported by objective medical evidence and cannot be asserted as a mitigating factor in any court of law.
Iowa is a turn signal optional state – just as it is motorcycle helmet optional. Draw your own conclusions, but I think mine are pretty obvious.
And as I told my wife a few years back, living in a town even smaller that John’s, “No one uses signals because they always know where you’re going. Or if they don’t, they make their business to know.”
@katyasozaeva I’m perversely glad to here that trait is not exclusive to my Korean hosts. My wife actually just got nailed with a traffic ticket via traffic camera for failing to signal last week. When she unhappily told me about it I had to tell her, “I’m sorry – but I’m not sorry for you, I’m glad you got nailed and I hope they are nailing lots of other drivers too. Then things might get better out there.”
They must have taped their turn signal to the steering wheel.
Not gonna happen man. I don’t want you cutting me off!
For some folks in Massachusetts, putting the turn-signal on means “I am currently turning”. As if nobody could tell that their vehicle is, you know, not going straight anymore.
If it makes you feel any better at least half the people round here think that indicators are only to make the car look pretty and can be turned on or off at random, just like Christmas lights.
Like @Sara, I am in Upstate NY… and turn signals seem to be entirely optional. I learned to drive in Chicago. At the time (and perhaps continuing to this day), the police had a quota of tickets they were supposed to write each month. “Failure to use turn signal” was a VERY popular ticket; most of my friends received at least one a year. I’m OCD and completely paranoid, so turn signals are as automatic for me as buckling my seat belt.
Turn signal usage is an anti-entropic effect. Because there are portions of the universe where turn signal usage is below entropic norms, there are areas where turn signal usage is well above the level of entropy, resulting in turn signals that blink for an entire trip. We call those areas “Florida”.
Before he returned to Perth a friend observed that Canberra didn’t have indicators, they had confirmators.
I was born in Ohio close to where you live, left for 30 years and came back in the last few years. I’ve come to the conclusion that turn signals are not a requirement in this area. In addition it is mandatory to have a cell phone attached to one ear while yelling at the kids in the back seat. Just saying, give them distance and do not assume or try to predict Ohio drivers actions based on any logic or preconceived notions that you read in a book or saw on TV.
Sigh. Missing word: Before he returned to Perth a friend observed that Canberra drivers didn’t have indicators, they had confirmators.
Turn signals come STANDARD on automobiles? Who’d have thought?
Question is, was your rocket launcher standard with the mini or was it an option?
A variation for New Yorkers: When you activate your left turn signal, it is not an indication that you’re pulling over to the right and the rest of you should pass you on the left. Learn it; use it.
Alamance County, NC has a four step process that’s become a time honored tradition, passed down from generation to generation:
2. Swing out in the direction opposite the turn
@Jeff Xilon – I also see this in Thailand. As well as *not* indicating to turn, some drivers confound logic in totally the opposite direction by putting *both* indicators on (= hazard lights) when going straight over an intersection…
It happens in NC too. We blame the people who came here from the Midwest and the Northeast.
We St. Louisans are trying to conserve blinker fluid. There’s a terrible statewide shortage.
I live in Houston. I once dated a guy from L.A. . He was convinced that in the turning lane, your car had to line up exactly with the arrow painted on the street indicating which direction you planned on turning. Once your car was lined up in the turning lane, *then* you turned on your blinkers to let everyone know which direction you were turning.
@Ed Wahl – Well that explains why just about half of the folks in CO don’t use their blinkers, about half leave the blinkers on for miles, with the tiny remainder DESPERATELY using theirs in hopes that the other two groups might learn through osmosis.
Traveling around the country for work I have learned the vagaries of turn signal use & road rules. Ohio is one of the states that using ones turn signal to indicate an intent to change lanes actually results in drivers in the other lane to speed up thereby preventing said change.
In my darker moments I dream of a highway system populated with 50% Ohio drivers and 50% Massachusetts drivers – in MA the turn indicator is used to signal I am already on my way over and have no intent of checking to see if it is even possible let alone advisable. I would ride in the Goodyear blimp watching the resulting carnage from above.
I live in MN which pretty much follows the Ohio rules and have generally found CA drivers to be the easiest to understand both in using signals and permitting lane changes
If you were in Chicago when the turn signals were late, I’d have to second those who said that you were lucky you saw one at all. Chicago drivers fear signaling their intentions will be seen as a sign of weakness, as well as a cue to the nearest other driver to swerve into their lane and cut them off.
When I lived in a mountain state, I noticed a trend – drivers would complete a turn without using their signals and then (and only then) bump their turn signal for a moment or two. I interpreted that as a courtesy ‘I have just turned right’ message.
Which, of course, was no help at all.
In New Jersey, putting on your turn signal is an invitation to all the drivers following you to speed up so they can block your turn; a signal to those entering traffic from the cross street you want to turn into to speed up and use your car as a shield against oncoming traffic and for those in the on-coming lanes to alter their speed in a manner that prevents you from being able to judge whether you can make the turn or not.
Here in Texas the rule is to cross from the leftmost to the rightmost lane in as little time as possible, then turn on your signal just before you change your mind about that exit ramp.
continuing: which is why no driver from Jersey ever has any trouble driving at high speed through central Manhattan and poo-poo the supposed driving skills of drivers from other states.
In Mass, people don’t use turn signals because it gives too much information to the enemy.,
@Julie: what – and leave out the full stop in the middle lane right before making the turn across all lanes of traffic?
For all those people who think using a turn signal to switch lanes means the other people will cut you off, I do the complete opposite. If you turn the signal on, I’ll make room for you (unless you’re a garbage truck). If I think you’re thinking about moving to my lane but you don’t have the signal on, I’ll pre-emtively cut you off just to make sure you don’t change lanes when I’m not expecting it.
(For reference, I live in the suburbs of Philly and people are pretty good about using their signals when turning, 50/50 when switching lanes.)
Here in Massachusetts using a turn signal is like giving information to the enemy.
In driver-ed class back in Virginia, I was taught the mnemonic SMOG for lane changes: Signal, check Mirror, check Over-the-shoulder, Go.
Massachusetts is gradually training me out of this. Here, if you start the process by signaling, first of all, people who are in your blind spot will (because they are in Massachusetts) justifiably assume you’re going to dart right in, panic and honk at you, and, second, there are also folks who will take the opportunity to speed up specifically to not let you in.
At the other extreme, it took my father many years of conditioning to use his turn signals at all, because he grew up in rural Nebraska where 98% of the time there simply were no other cars.
Same here in Indiana. I told my wife I think it’s actually against the law to use use your turn signals, stop at stop lights/signs, and so on. That has always been one of my major pet peeves along with talking on the cell while driving. Also I quite haven’t figured out yet the thinking behind going 55 in a 45 zone but going 35 in a 55 zone and as for school buses??? My mom and grandfather both retired from driving them so I know the basic rules a bus driver is suppose to follow, key word here “suppose”. I actually have turned in the same driver several times for passing on a double line, speeding, not stopping before crossing railroad tracks, with KIDS ON THE BUS, and so on! The last time I called I was informed that “yes it was unfortunate however they are short handed drivers so nothing could be done.” Of course this is the same area that allowed a drunk driving bus driver to still keep his job. Sigh….
One of my favorite dashboard buttons in a car was in my friend’s old VW Super Beetle. There was a red button on the dash with a “B” on it that was, he said, to test the brake system. But we labelled it the “Blast button”. It took care of these kinds of drivers that you descirbe… and many more. So many more…..
The button also lit up when you pushed it, so it was a very satisfying action.
One, I was an explosive hazardous materials driver for the AF [JP4 jockey] and, thus, trained in defensive driving.
Two, twenty years ago I featured in a 2-hour spoof movie on the SF-Con circuit playing a Jerry Lewis-type driving instructor whose exit line, after being being fire from an ejector seat, was, “Turn signals, Mr. Blond!”
Therefor now my thumb twitches in search of the bazooka trigger when a driver crosses two lanes in front of me to enter a dedicated left turn-lane from the furtherest right lane AND keep one’s turn indicators blinking for the entire period as soon as one enters the dedicated lane after they’re no longer required.
John, may we extend this discussion of the deserved remand to Purgatory for those who only cruisingly yield at STOP signs yet stop hard at YIELD signs?
Midwesterners? John, I grew up in southern California, and now I live in Michigan, and I’ve found Michiganders to be far, far better at using their turn signal than Californians. And stopping at stop signs, not crossing double yellow lines, etc. Of course, they also drive way too slow, but hey, you win some, you lose some.
I lvie in the Midwest (Missouri) and, has been mentioned somewhere, if you see a car with the turn signal on, it was probably in the on position when the car was purchased. Drives me nuts.
Sorry, got up on my soapbox on my last comment. Bad/inconsiderate drivers really get to me. As my momma use to say “they drive so bad it would make Jesus cuss”.
@ Ed Wahl, I’m not sure which part of Florida you live in, but down south, the indicator has become a ‘right-of-wayer.’ In which using the blinker give them the right of way regardless of the vehicle’s bumper or quarter panel that is already occupying the lane, or the number of lanes they must cross to make a turn. Then, when one has the opportunity and fortitude (remember, they carry guns down here) to confront a driver on their questionable practices, you get “What? I turned my signal on.” As if it is a badge of honor or something that is done for special occasions.
yeah, I’m a Chicagoan and I use my turn signal AND…wait for it..I actually STOP AT STOP SIGNS. We’re talkin’ FULL STOP, not a roll-through.
Let’s face it–most folks in this country don’t realize that turn signals are actually standard on all cars these days. Too bad that concept is lost on some folks.
I always use my turn signal. It’s that one to the left of the go-pedal down by your feet, right? And you turn it on by slamming on it right before you turn.
It has the added benefit of slowing you down fast.
I’m a Bostonian. We used to be truly horrifically bad drivers, but we’ve gotten a lot better over the past decade or so. I think we rank as merely “very bad” now.
In the 1980s, one of my go-to sources for a good laugh when I needed cheering up was Wild in the Streets: The Boston Driver’s Handbook. If I remember right, the note about turn signals was (paraphrasing), “Experienced, advanced-level drivers can understand subtle cues and predict what other drivers will do, so they don’t need to use turn signals. If you use them, you’re telling everyone around you that you’re a novice, which makes you an easy target.” That’s a pretty Bostonian way of thinking about it.
I hear there’s a new edition, updated after the Big Dig. I should pick up a copy.
As a grizzled veteran of 3 years driving in Bella Napoli the answer is simple. Using one’s turn signals would be an indication that the driver acknowledges the existence of other cars or drivers and as every Neopolitan knows, once you acknowledge their existence you have to pretend like they matter. Thus the driver in Naples blissfully sails along looking neither right nor left eyes fixed on a disappearing spot in the far ahead in the belief inculcated from birth that he or she is the King of the Road before whom all others , such as they may be, must defer.
As some have posted, a turn signal is often interpreted as a challenge to obstruct the turn or lane change by (too many) drivers.
When we lived in the DC area, we learned to signal in opposition to our intention. I.e., when seeking a right lane change, signal left; when seeking a left lane change, signal right.
This was called “disinformation”. It was widely practice and, indeed, was the only way of forestalling the blockers.
When we lived in Miami, drivers there turned on their blinkers opposite the side of their intended turn. Does anyone know if that is the custom in Latin America or were folks just acting perversely? It sure made for interesting following
My mom used to remark that my dad will have an awful lot of turn signals when he gets to heaven. Now it is a family joke – “turn signal broken? Or are you saving it for heaven?”
The lack of turn signal usage in all of DelMarVa is widespread. It’s so bad that one time a cop pulled me over to cite me for a malfunctioning taillight. I had to explain to him that I was using a turn signal.
Turn Signals tell those following that you intend to change lanes or turn and you would like them to let you do so, in New Jersey, you’re daring those following to try and stop you.
Enjoy this thread while you can. Once the Google robot cars take over, what will we have to complain about?
> Sara J. says:
(For reference, I live in the suburbs of Philly and people are pretty good about using their signals when turning, 50/50 when switching lanes.)
Agreed. Signalling is actually highly normal around here. The few who don’t signal really stand out.
In Utah the law requires that you use your turn signal for a minimum of two seconds or four blinks before you initiate any lane change. After seeing a couple of clients pulled over for not following this law (and subsequently getting charged for other violations) I’m hyper-aware of turn signals–which mostly just makes me really really peeved when NO ONE uses them correctly. Sometimes I fantasize about pulling them over myself.
On the other hand, on a recent road-trip on 1-84 through Idaho, I encountered the politest drivers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a freeway with. Multiple people who actually move over when they see you coming up behind them in the fast lane. By the time we got to Portland we were mourning the lost of our Idaho road-partners.
Ugh no kidding!! Just moved to Missouri and it’s every-morning-road-rage for us! That and talking on cell phones (hands-free or otherwise) isn’t illegal here (Oregon: hands-free only) so not only do peeps not signal, they rarely shoulder check or drive the speed limit!
Suddenly, turn signals become VERY important when you’re teaching a teen how to drive.
I’m in NJ. My observation has been that probably about half of the drivers here use turn signals properly. Unfortunately, that half doesn’t include a lot of people driving police cars.
We also have a lovely species of driver who thinks turning on their signal entitles them to immediately turn in that direction, even if it means crossing 3 lanes of traffic to make a right turn. I think they may be the same drivers who think, hazard lights on = traffic rules no longer apply to me.
As opposed to the drivers that motor down the highway with their turn signal on for six miles… never turning once. Yea. America needs to evolve it’s train systems
My experience of small midwest farm town traffic is everyone signals, everyone gives a wave to everyone else, and people often gesture to allow others to go in front of them. Also, if you’re on the side of the road with the hood up, people will pull over and ask if you need a ride or something.
My experience of big city driving is fuck you you fucking fuck of fucks.
The turn signal, an artform that apparently didn’t reach the Pacific North West sadly.
I am a Chicagoan, drive like a speed freak, and yet, I always signal in advance.
HOW hard is this?
Of course the trap is that we give a license to anyone and we never take it away.
I have always planned that if I won the lottery to buy lots of 15 sec slots that repeated in black and white text.
again and again.
Here in Los Angeles it’s safe to assume that turn signals do not come standard on German luxury cars. Although I have to say the drivers here are better than they are where I grew up in the greater Chicagoland area about getting the fuck out of the way when there are sirens.
People are no damned good at using their turn signals here in southwestern Ontario, Soviet Canuckistan, either, and seem to have this unpredictable thing where an amber light means either “stomp on the gas so you can get through the light before it changes,” OR “stomp on the brake so hard you might cause a three-car pileup,” which makes being a non-driving pedestrian interesting at times. If they’d pick one thing and stick to it, it’d be safer for us among the Great Unwheeled.
You mean that rocket hood-ornament on my Olds 98 actually works? Where’s the fire button, dammit?
If you are nearly rear-ending the person in front of you, you are driving too close or too fast. Just because the person in front of you drives like and idiot, that does not mean you are absolved from your own faults. Defensive driving means you are prepared for stupid people.
When I lived in Texas, turn signals apparently meant, “Cut me off.” So I learned not to use them.
Now I live in Washington state, and turn signals are like magic! They cause spaces to open up in the lane next to you that didn’t exist before! They cause people to give you friendly little waves! And I use them all the time.
In Toronto signals seem to considered optional for lane changes and last-minute additions to actual turns. Consequently I rely on reading the body language of other cars and for added safety assuming they’re going to do something stupid without warning.
This scene from Shoot ’em Up is frequently by quoted by my wife and I when we’re driving: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ibs6gyABz8
I’m so copying, slightly editing and posting this to my Facebook status. Because I’m sure all the bad drivers read that.
@Chris 8:16 I see that all the time in WMass, especially on 91. Watching two vehicles weaving in and out from opposite lanes is also interesting.
@Bearpaw 8:31 I’ll admit I’ve done this, more on the town roads than highway.
Rule of thumb: turn your blinker on about 80 ft from your turn (25 yards).
What I hate is when people turn their signal on, with no intention of turning themselves, simply to provide the guy behind you what the guy in front of you is going to do.
What?!? My CO used to do this in Alabama.
Like Amy Raby, I find that here in Washington State turn signal use is pretty wide spread. However, in my frequent visits to Southern California, it seems to be a signal for other traffic to move to block..This can sometimes be countered by a fake signal in the opposite direction.
I think next year’s Hugo award ought to be a fully functional rocket. Just saying.
@Chris Sears: I leave plenty of braking room between me and the car in front of me. If someone cuts in to a space barely large enough to hold their car without a signal and hits the brakes, they’re taking the risk that the person behind them doesn’t have enough room to stop. Two weeks ago I saw a member of our local constabulary pull over a driver for performing just that particular stunt. It’s called “reckless driving.”
My wife mutters as she drives, but calls turn signaling “indicating” — which I believe is British English.
Annie Hall (1977) Alvy Singer: “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.”
“Dear midwesterners: now that I have deigned to soil my boots by walking among you, please adjust your decades-ingrained behavior en masse for my personal convenience.”
Fixed it for you.
See this plenty over in Seattle too. Particularly frustrating when you’re turning left on a green light at an intersection, and you hold for a car in the left lane on the other side of the intersection. No signal on the vehicle but it’s just sitting there. Cellphone? Brainfart? Then it turns–left.
There are few things that up my road-rage-a-meter as much as lack of turn signals. It’s not only important for the person behind the car, but for people coming in the opposite direction, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
And yes, folks, signally should happen for lane changes as well as turns.
@Rob K: I see that attitude quite a bit also in SW FL. I swear that this place is the U-Turn capital of the world, you always have to be alert for people suddenly popping into your later from the opposite side of the median! That and the red light doesn’t count for the first second or two, I’ve almost been creamed a couple times by people “trying to beat the yellow light” in reality it was a solid red…
That’s not restricted to the mid-west. We have boneheads in the Philly area that do that all the time.
My biggest driving annoyance is when some moron makes a left turn in front of on coming traffic as soon as the light turns green.
There’s another peculiarity to the MA use of turn signals (or lack thereof): if you are signalling to make the left, and are the FIRST car in the left lane stopped at the light, the oncoming traffic will generally cede you the 1-2 seconds to take that left when the light turns green. Understanding as they do full well that you will have NO opportunity to make the left for the rest of the light cycle.
But you have to BUST that move, left-lane-left-turner. Because if you have not *started* the turn within the 10th second after the light change, you are SOL, my friend. You snooze you loose.
Driving is a great source of pet peeves.
Just mention something about driving, and you’ll get more than 80 comments before noon.
Sorry, I’m stating the obvious.
(Sorry, that was stating the obvious.)
Context is everything. I drive defensively when driving through the countryside and in small towns. That’s where turn signals really shine. However, I also know how to drive offensively in the city. It’s one of those ‘when in Rome’ things.
ahh but if one is maintaining proper distance constantly then this is not an issue.
September 11, 2012 at 9:20 am
“Here in Texas the rule is to cross from the leftmost to the rightmost lane in as little time as possible, then turn on your signal just before you change your mind about that exit ramp.”
Julie, you must live in San Antonio, I see this happening daily. I see people get onto the interstate go all the way over to the left lane in one fell swoop, no signal, no pause in between lanes, nothing, only to go all the way over to the right to exit a few miles down the way.
In Delaware, they’re pretty good about using turn signals. However, lights turning red–merely a suggestion. I’ve been here three years and I still think I’m pushing it as the light turns red as I go through the intersection–then three people behind me go through, too.
Oh, Mr. Scalzi. It’s my understanding that you used to live in the National Capital Region (where I live and work now). If so, you should know that a signal is a sign of weakness, an invitation to others to speed up to prevent your signaled lane change. Signaling a turn, not a lane change, is just bad practice and puts one in the wrong habit. At best, a signal is a device to gloat, “Hey, I just completed a lane change/turn!!”
This, sir, is why I’m pro-gun control. If I were to ever have a firearm, in a car, I’d be in jail after just one commute.
I’m a Midwesterner who dislikes drivers who tailgate too close. If the car you were following that you almost had an accident with it, then you were probably following too close. My Dad,, Insurance man and most policeman have all said that the person doing the rear-ending is the one at fault.
BTW, thanks for the tip on James Lileks’s new book. I’ve been a fan of this fellow Midwesterner since he was on the radio in the 1980’s.
When I first moved to Utah from California, I always used turn signals to indicate that I wanted to change lanes. Because in California, if you do that people make space for you. But in Utah, people speed up and pass you to keep you from getting in front of them. I have missed offramps because of this several times. So, Mary Beth, that’s why you won’t ever see me signaling to change lanes. Because I want to be able to actually make the change.
I do or don’t when I am in my home town. Most often, I do hit the turn signal when making a turn, however, I don’t generally use the breaks. My procedure is, hit the turn signal, kill the nitromethane, downshift, turn, hit the gas and the nitromethane, shift back up, buy new tires. Most live in fear of my car, so I have nothing to worry about.
What bothers me is people who take a nap at the red light. Here is the approved red light procedure. When the red light is about to turn green (1/10th of a second before the change), blip up the gas and put the car in gear. When the red light starts fading out, let off the clutch, then hammer the gas down. When the green light starts fading in, hit the nitromethane. Then, buy new tires.
I agree with a few of the others, while WA drivers have many, many problems (in particular, the zipper merge), turn signal use is not one of them.
As for the main point, they’re not asking /permission/, they’re asking /forgiveness/.
You realize, of course, with that post you have just been flagged by Homeland Sec.
Growing up close to Bradford (in Potsdam) I would like to second your statement.
Almost no one here in L.A. signals a turn; a few signal *as* they turn/change lanes. I always signal, and try to give it five car lengths before I start to turn/change lanes. If someone opens a space for me, I give a courtesy wave after I segue in. I’ll let in anyone that signals, even during rush hour.
But my heart tells me it’s all futile. The new Rule of Road is ‘The biggest car has the right-of-way.’ I’ll never have the biggest car and I’d like to stay alive.
Shoot, you should drive in Charlotte, NC. People here don’t even use their turn signals half the time.
How is “maintaining proper distance” relevant to someone else failing to signal? Yes, you will have enough distance to avoid an accident, but you’ll still have to engage in behavior that is far from optimal for your own safety and comfort because they were breaking the law. If the sudden brake/turn maneuver causes you to brake hard, it’s a chain reaction to every driver around you. Don’t make excuses for the selfish drivers. I’m not one who obeys the law for the sake of obeying the law. I speed (when traffic is going 10 mph over, you’re safer going 10 mph over), I don’t come to a full stop at four way stops, etc… But, the most important thing is to be predictable. No driver should ever have to guess what you’re going to do.
I’ve become paranoid over time. I don’t trust anyone else on the road. I assume that the person in the lane next to me is suddenly going to turn into a werewolf and swerve into my lane in a desperate attempt to get at the tasty tasty marrow in my spinal column. If there is more than a car’s length of space between me and the car in front of mine, I assume that it will momentarily be filled with anything between a Smart Car and a Canyonero (usually in inverse proportion to the space between my car and the other car.)
And don’t get me started on motorcycles. They’re like two-wheeled lawsuits waiting to happen. Each one is followed by a school of sharks to my mind.
No, what gets me is the douchebag lane. The douchebag lane takes one of two forms:
o The first is that part of an exit-only lane that sits about twenty yards to the start of the off-ramp to about ten yards past the actual turn-off. A person waiting until the douchebag lane to realize “Oh, I shouldn’t be in this lane!” and then careen into the next lane over to the left, is in fact a douchebag.
o The second form of the douchebag lane is situational: It appears when an exit ramp is backed up for more than a quarter mile. The exit ramp is not itself the douchebag lane, neither is the right-most lane that branches into the off-ramp. No, in this case the douchebag lane is the lane immediately to the left, where people zip by the upwards of two miles of backed-up traffic feeding the off-ramp, then turn on their blinkers and sometimes sit on the off-ramp divider, edging their way ahead of everyone else who is waiting. If this person does not have lights and sirens going, they are a douchebag.
The Brooklyn Bridge used to have a very lively douchebag lane feeding it from the FDR Drive, until the New York City government showed that it could be just as mean as New York City drivers, and put up a string of plastic posts preventing most last-minute douchebag lane-changes, and stationed the occasional team of traffic cops there, who could easily make their monthly quota on one Saturday afternoon.
For those who are bemoaning the Law of Gross Tonnage as it applies to the Rules of the Road, take heart! There is a law that supersedes it: I deliver unto you the Law of I Can Afford To Have This Beater Totaled, Can You Afford The Same Of Your BWM?
… BMW. BMW. And I almost typed that as ‘BWM’ again. Wow. Humor FAIL. :(
Best driving/riding/pedestrian-ing advice I’ve ever gotten: pretend you are invisible.
If you just assume from the outset that they can’t see you, then that makes your actions much safer.
I often find myself shouting to other drivers (who can’t hear me in my car): “You know, that stick behind the wheel isn’t just for decoration! It HAS a purpose!” And in invoking the Golden Rule, I make a point of using my indicator all the time, even if it’s a quick merging into an open lane. Just common courtesy, really.
You instantly brought to mind Cake’s song “Race Car Ya-yas”:
The land of race car ya-yas
The land where you can’t change lanes
The land where large fuzzy dice still hang proudly
Like testicles from rear view mirrors
John Scalzi writes:
Please learn this before I have to destroy your car, which I have very nearly rear-ended, with a rocket launcher.
Oh man! Ohio let’s you use rocket launchers? Is there a bag limit? Do you have to get tags? Is the limit higher for BMWs?
On the other hand, on a recent road-trip on 1-84 through Idaho, I encountered the politest drivers I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a freeway with.
I learned to drive in Idaho, I’d love to claim that makes me a polite driver, but I will say that it leaves one utterly unprepared for massive California freeways with a zillion lanes each way.
I try to maintain good signalling habits in the Chicago metro area, but I was warned when I moved here that signals communicate information to the enemy.
The term I’ve always used for rolling through stop signs is “California stop”.
My vote for the weirdest feature of traffic culture is the Pittsburgh Left When the light turns green the driver coming toward you will take a sudden left turn before you go straight.
Wikipedia describes this as a rational transaction of rational altruism, and discusses the signals between the drivers that supposedly negotiates this transaction.
I haven’t driven very much in Pittsburgh and I certainly didn’t participate in any protocol negotiation when I had a left-turning car suddenly fill my windshield. I was surprised, and I had even heard about it from other people before it happened to me.
Some argue that the 2nd Amendment gives one the right to use rocket launchers. The Founding Father knew all about those. “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there…” But that’s a slippery slope, or slippery off-ramp.
Because who really believes that the 2nd Amendment gives one the right to use neutron bombs? Which don’t help in traffic. The EMP kills most car engines. And the car engines it does not kill, have drivers who know they’ll die in a few hours or days, and have nothing to lose, so they’ll cut you off without signalling.
To make your car street legal in Utah you need to have your turn signal disabled and your headlights put on permanent high beam. Also, that person driving five miles an hour under the speed limit in the fast lane is doing it for your own good.
@JJS: “…in Utah, people speed up and pass you to keep you from getting in front of them.” Because getting there 20 feet ahead of you is the MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD.
Have you considered carrying your new Mallet of Loving Correction with you in the car? You could be the Thor of moving violations.
I blame Wisconsin.
When she unhappily told me about it I had to tell her, “I’m sorry – but I’m not sorry for you, I’m glad you got nailed and I hope they are nailing lots of other drivers too. Then things might get better out there.”
When is the divorce final?
Scalzi, I hate to disappoint you, but I grew up in Kentucky where we use turn signals and people are polite, moved to Southern California where no one in their right mind uses a turn signal, EVER, because that is a sign of weakness and other drivers will move up so you can’t change lanes, and when we moved BACK to Kentucky, I had to re-train myself to use the damn turn signals.
I call shenanigans on California drivers using turn signals more than anyone else. That’s bogus.
You’ve just noticed this?
Yesterday … half-mile ahead, very light traffic, pickup signals for right turn, moves over to right-turn lane, then turns LEFT across two lanes of traffic, the left-turn lane, and completes a U turn, no, P turn. All the while, signalling a right turn. While holding a phone to his ear.
When I was a kid when we drove into town we passed a light industrial area where stood a blue 6 wheel armored car – not a money truck but an armored combat vehicle. I dreamed them about having that car and still do for all the reasons set out above. Cut me off? Tailgate me? Do stupid human tricks that result in contact? BWAH HAH HAHHHHHHHHHHHH!
If this was a test to see if the number of comments to a post was proportional to the amount of time spent writing it, I think you may now have your answer.
But you should try a one-word post some day…as a test.
IrishUp, things must have gotten considerably more tame in Boston since I left there. Moved there from Michigan in 1975, and the “jump the light left turn” was generally two, three, or on one memorable occasion, SIX cars squeezing in front of oncoming traffic. I once had a taxi driver merge into my bumper by the Public Garden in traffic so jammed neither of us could have opened our doors and gotten out. That convinced me to stop driving downtown and take the T.
Now I live in Los Angeles, and find that although lane or turn signaling is a dying art, the general competence of freeway drivers is pretty high. It’s just there are so many drivers the chance of encountering a jerk is also high.
I believe Washington DC area drivers are considered the worst in the country. I think it was on CNN. For some reason Maryland has really wide right turn areas that curve around so you can make the turn into another lane. It is VERY common for people to feel it is ok to pass you while you are waiting for traffic to leave you an opening. I have come very close to getting into an accident several times since due to being cut off by someone who doesn’t want to wait 10 seconds for me.
However, bad you think it is in the middle of no where in Ohio, its much worse here.
Canadians use their turn signals.
When I was taking Driver’s Ed in the South, my instructor was asked “should I signal for the guy in front of me? It just seems polite.” And he AGREED with that student! Confused? Let me clarify:
If you are at an intersection, and the guy in front of you is signaling left, it’s apparently your duty to signal the same way he is, EVEN IF YOU ARE GOING TO TURN RIGHT!!!!! At some intersections, there’s enough room for people to squeeze by left-turners and others waiting to cross the intersection, so this kind of idiocy opens up the possibility that you’ll collide with the “polite” person who is signaling one way, but moving the other. Also, why on earth would you need to know what direction someone two cars ahead of your is going to do when they start moving?
I find myself quite often chanting “It’s supposed to be turn signal AND THEN the brake!” quite often while driving. I’m still convinced that BMWs must not come standard with the damned things because I’ve never seen a single car with a working one. Also, being from (very) Southern Ohio (as in, 2 exits north of the state line), I call shenanigans on the person who claimed all Kentuckians use their signals – unless they all have a suicide switch that flips once they cross the state line – because I’ve NEVER seen a car with KY plates use one (especially to change lanes)!
Rocket Launcher? Duels between cars? Careful or you might become the titular character in Alan Dean Foster’s “Why Johnny can’t Speed.”
Joh Scalzi to start writing Car Wars fiction? Well, maybe not, but I hear the guys at Steve Jackson Games are starting Car Wars up again, they might be extraordinarily interested. =)
In the Washington DC metro area using turn signals is a sign of weakness.
This is a well established fact. Really, you can look it up.
John, you must have forgotten since your time here.
To the people worried about being cut off if they signal to *turn*: I don’t think they can cut you off if you are turning. To the people worried about being cut off if they signal to change lanes: I can read vehicle “body language” and can usually tell if someone is thinking about changing lanes. If they put their turn signal on, I try to make a point of giving them room to change lanes –as a reward for bothering to communicate. If they look like they might want to change lanes but are trying to be “sneaky,” or in my opinion, arrogant, I tend to not be as helpful.
I know some drivers will take advantage of someone signalling to change lanes, but so what? I signal when someone is just barely past my bumper and I want to change lanes. I don’t care if they back up, or speed up to get in front of me, I just want them to give me space to change lanes!
The local drivers use the ‘Psychic Turn Signal’, which only telepaths can apparently catch.
If you are leaving your turn signal on for 1/4 mile or longer without actually turning, you are ‘Going around the world to the right/left.’
Oh, and I am trying to train people out of using said ‘douchebag lane’, by making room for a person who signals in advance, but genteely ignoring those who fly past the slow traffic up to the merge portion of the lane, then try to shove in. Wish me luck.
Unfortunately I have found myself passing a line of slow moving tractor trailers in the right lane and it turned out they were the tail end of a long exit jam and that I was in fact in the ‘douchebag lane’ and shouldn’t have passed them in the first place.
I lived for seven years in Canberra. This is a city which is filled with roundabouts (those lovely little intersections where you have to go around a central point in order to take your turn). Australian driving law is that you do have to indicate when you’re going off a roundabout. In seven years, I don’t think I saw anyone in the whole damn city use their indicators correctly even once.
Then again, I’ve also driven down the main roads of our nation’s capital behind someone who is constantly indicating they’re going to be pulling a right turn in the left hand lane. For anything up to ten kilometres. Past at least six sets of lights where they might possibly have actually been turning right.
Eventually my partner and I came up with a theory. Indicators in cars purchased in the ACT don’t work, because somewhere in the whole process there’s a bloke whose job it is to lift off the cover and smash the little bulbs. Hence, when some mechanic from out of town notices this and fixes it, the Canberran driver won’t actually realise their car is doing anything unusual. (The clicking noise which is supposed to indicate the indicators are working is probably just written off by the driver as “something cars do” – theirs has probably been doing that since they got it from the factory).
Melbourne has the “hook turn” – a right turn (across traffic) made from the left hand lane. It’s something to do with trams, I think.
Sydney has so many wonderful five-way intersections – it’s our oldest city, and it shows in the traffic layout.
Perth drivers probably win prizes for impoliteness as well (I’m one of them, so I’m used to them). My own driving style I wouldn’t classify as “defensive”, but rather “paranoid”. I stick exactly to the posted speed limit (thus pissing off everyone behind me, because the actual consensus speed limit on most Australian roads is about 10km/h more than the posted one) and I stick an invisible semi-trailer between myself and the nincompoop in front of me on the freeway, because that way I have adequate warning of what they’re about to do at least… the ones behind me I can’t do anything about other than slowing down if I can’t see their front license plate in my rear view mirror (you tailgate me, I take my foot off the accelerator – when you drop back, I’ll speed up again). I also tend to get into the correct lane for the turn I intend to take early, because last minute lane changes stress me out.
 My excuse is I’m trying to get accustomed to hell before I die, so it won’t be so much of a shock afterwards.
 Please to remember – we drive on the left here. For us, a right turn is a turn across oncoming traffic.
I can deal with the people who only signal at the last moment, usually. Unless I happen to be looking down at that exact moment and have to slam on my brakes, at which point some nice swear words will issue forth from my mouth.
No, the ones I REALLY hate are those people, usually driving either sports cars or huge pickup trucks (read: rednecks), who tailgate me when I’m merging onto the interstate and then dart around me to the left before I’ve had the chance to merge, speeding up and therefore occupying the spot that is MINE, and forcing me to slow down further, which makes merging with the flow of traffic even harder. Yes, Ohio, I’m talking about YOU.
I also hate the people who think the long on-ramp going from 70 west to 75 north is a lane all for them. It’s not. It ends. Don’t pull into it in order to pass me on the right. This only makes me foam at the mouth and specifically block you so you can learn the meaning of the age old advice, “Do not pull into a right lane in order to pass someone on the interstate.”
Silly Scalzi, That’s not the turn signal, it’s the turn verifier.
Has anyone else ever driven a car in Vancouver, B.C.? It’s very creepy. The drivers are so incredibly polite it throws off all your driving instincts. One example: I was trying to enter traffic from a parallel parking space, had my turn signal on when a car drove up and stopped in the lane I was trying to get into. I figure this guy wants my space, so I pull out and he starts following me! This guy stopped to let me into traffic from a parking space. Wierd. Also their green traffic lights blink.
All too frequently my turn signal is interpreted by the driver in the neighboring lane as an invitation to accelerate and block me from changing lanes. If only there were more cooperation instead of so much entitlement.
Last night, I kept an eye out for signalling as I drove through northeast Philadelphia.
40 other drivers correctly used their turn signals where I could see. 0 turned without signaling adequately in advance.
Oh John, you really must come to St Cloud MN and stay for a few days so you can experience the worst drivers in the country. I’m not the only one who thinks so.
My dad taught me to drive and the use of a turn signal is instilled in me. It should be a habit for drivers to always use their turn signal – but then, many drivers aren’t concentrating on driving.
As a road tester in the state of Michigan, the number one complaint I get from the kids taking the test is that so many drivers don’t use their turn signals. Very rarely do I have to gig the kids for not using their own turn signals. The most common error the kids make is simply not doing their traffic checks. They will get into the left turn lane without looking over their shoulder to see if any weirdo is passing on the left, for instance. More than once I’ve had to grab the steering wheel to stop us from hitting someone illegally passing on our left in the left turn lane.
I hate to admit it, but I’m so used to people not using their turn signals that when they do, I try to treat them more courteously. I would say that about 25% of the drivers in the Detroit Metro area don’t use their signals.
My current theory is that cars are worth more on trade-in if they have the original equipment bulbs. Don’t want to burn them out through use. I can relate to Ryan’s theory, though.
I have a lot more to say on the subject (stifles long loud boring rant) as you can imagine. I’ve been road testing over 8 years. I will spare you, with one last word.
Please use your turn signals, so other drivers will know what you are doing. A left turn signal in a right turn lane is a very clear warning to the rest of us. DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!! So even a bad signal can be useful.
In Texas turn signals appear to be viewed by the locals as an Option on the car they purchase.(What does This switch do?) and they will use them only when they cannot force themselves into a lane or exit. We can spot the tourists and newcomers because they use their turn signals regularly.
When I asked my wife if she had any problems driving in rush hour traffic in Omaha Ne. years ago, she said,”no, I signal, and they move over to let me in.”
In Texas this is seen as a sign of weakness and must be punished, harshly.(I think the city hobby in Houston is Kill the Newbies, but I might be wrong about that. I doubt it, though.)
@JFM – the green blinking light means pedestrian crossing in BC, so careful if you’re turning! Pedestrians have the right of way. Also, just to make things interesting, in other provinces like Ontario, the blinking light is an advanced left turn.
I was driving to Cleveland in 2007. There were two eastbound lanes, two westbound lanes, and a concrete median in case any Buckeye drivers got confused. I was in the left lane. I had a semi to the right of me. In front of me was a sedan that was intend on going the exact same speed as that semi. Behind me was a SUV who wanted to pass the semi. The SUV kept flashing his brights at me. We were all going 65 mph, whether we liked it or not. I could not speed up, I could not slow down, and I could not change lanes. I was boxed in. One mistake and my subcompact would have been buried under a multi-car pileup.
For about 5 or 10 miles, the SUV blazed his highbeams at me for something I could not help. Normally, I’m content to let even rude drivers pass me. I figure that such people will get themselves killed someday, and I would prefer to not be around when it happens.
Finally, we reached a wider point in the highway where there was a third lane. The SUV realized that the sedan was the one holding us up. So he flashed his brights at that sedan, then zipped past.
Confession is supposedly good for the soul, so — I have been so tempted to bring a paintball pistol along with me on some nice days, when I’ll be driving with the windows down. I have not done so. Well, it’s been in the trunk.
Anyone who’s ever wanted to fire car-to-car weaponry – and here in the MD suburbs of DC, I’ve felt this urge more and more frequently – should read Harlan Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” (from the collection The Beast that Shouted Love…, 1969 – it was the featured selection of the SF Book Club when I was a new member). I especially enjoy the pre-weaponry phase of the duel described in the story – featuring illuminated signs with pre-loaded selectable messages, such that the other driver sees your car light up with (among others) I HOPE YOU CRASH & BURN, YOU SON OF A BITCH.
When I was taking security guard training in California, my guard company specifically warned me in the training video to be careful about signaling before you move right to the next lane because some third world drivers will speed up if you signal, to allow you to merge behind them.