As it turns out, quite a lot.
The humble turn signal provides a lot more than just bling-bling and, when used correctly, it silently and efficiently announces our intended way through the urban jungle.
When used incorrectly, it is an invitation for disaster just waiting for a gullible victim to fall for its glittering deception.
But first, let me step back a little and talk about a crucial routine we should follow each and every time we perform any manoeuvre.
I’m quite the fan of mnemonics, so here’s one to add to your list (no charge):
MSM – Mirror, Signal Manoeuvre.
There are a few points to remember about MSM:
The order is crucial. Sadly, we see instances all the time of people jumbling up the order. One of my favourites is the people who swing into a filter lane at set of traffic signals, come to a halt, and then switch on their turn signal. It’s a little late my friend, and now you’re in the filter lane, we’ve got a pretty good idea where you’re going!
Then there are the people (I’m sure you’ve all seen them) who are already half way through their lane change when they switch on their turn signal (if at all).
A manoeuvre isn’t only a turn. It can be braking, coming to a halt, setting off, or performing a pass.
A signal is informative only. It’s not a request, and it’s not permission. Again, sadly, we see people all the time who think that a signal is a tacit right to do what they’re about to do.
Once signal per manoeuvre. Don’t signal a right turn, then, knowing you’re going to turn right again in a while, just leave that signal on. Cancel it, and start another at the appropriate time.
One more point: For us scooter riders, the “Mirror” part also involves a quick shoulder check or “LIfeSaver”. More about this later.
Here are a couple of examples of the application of MSM:
Mirror: Before anything, you check your mirrors to make sure you knew exactly what is around you.
Signal. Having established that it is clear to change lane, you switch on your turn signal. Now, wait! For a lane change in moving traffic, I always count three flashes of the turn signal before I do anything.
Quick shoulder check. Somebody who is very good with their mirror work, could consider skipping the shoulder check, but there is no harm in it – and it often saves the skin of even the most experienced rider.
Manoeuvre. Make the lane change.
MSM still applies.
Mirror. Before you perform any manoeuvre – and that includes braking – check your mirrors to see who is behind you, and assess the risk that braking will create.
Signal. Your signal is your brake light. Just because it’s automatic, remember it’s still a signal. There may be instances when you might consider reinforcing that signal. More about that later.
Manoeuvre. In this instance, the act of breaking runs simultaneously with the Signal part (your brake light). Keeping this in mind, remember you can start light braking earlier as a way to make that signal (the brake light) happen earlier if you see heavy, close traffic behind you.
So, back to the humble turn signal (thanks for staying with me).
A signal must be given early enough, but not too early. You must also be mindful of what signals (excuse the pun) you are actually giving.
As an example: an invitation to disaster could be approaching a right turn you are about to make, but there is a car waiting to exit a gas station just before the junction. Too early a signal in this instance could easily fool the driver into thinking that you’re entering the gas station. Out he comes… ouch! Sometimes it’s prudent to leave that signal a little later.
It goes without saying the possible consequences of leaving a signal too late, but here’s a conundrum for you: Say you’ve just made a left turn – with following traffic, and you need to make another left turn into a forecourt. Your signal is rendered useless because it has already signalled your first left turn, and there hasn’t been enough time to cancel your signal, and start another.
What to do? This leads us nicely into signal reinforcement.
What do you do in the above circumstance? You consider reinforcing that left signal with an arm signal. You have just made the left turn, you want to immediately turn left into the forecourt, you leave your signal on and then reinforce it with an arm signal. This will indicate to the drivers behind that you are making another left turn, and it will definitely get their attention!
As an exercise, think of other instances when a signal reinforcement could be useful. Feel free to post them in the comment section.
So, it turns out that the humble act of signalling is a bit more involved than it would at first seem. It is certainly not complicated, but, like everything else about good roadcraft, it deserves actual, logical thought.
One final thought before I leave you for today and get on Bella (my scooter) to get a much needed, emergency haircut. The title said “From Both Sides of the Bars”. We haven’t covered dealing with other people’s signals.
This one sage piece of advice can literally save your life:
The only thing a flashing turn signal proves, is that the bulb is working!
Here is just one example: You’re waiting to turn right out of a junction. There is a car approaching from the left with its right turn signal on. Are you safe to go? No, no and NO! Please do not enter the road until you see that car begin to make its right turn.
Until next time, Scoot Safely!
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