While driving, you only have a few methods of communicating with the other cars on the road. The most important—and most overlooked—is your turn signal.
There are several reasons to use your turn signal. One compelling reason is that it’s illegal not to. Another reason is that a 2012 study by the Society of Automotive Engineers estimated that two million crashes per year are a direct result of failure to signal. For comparison, that same year the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated that 950,000 crashes were a direct result of distracted driving.
You should use your turn signal when you are:
1. Changing Lanes
When you need to change lanes, turn on your turn signal first. This gives the cars around you ample time to slow down and prepare for you to get over. Then check your surroundings to make sure you have room to change lanes. Keep your turn signal on until you have gotten over completely, and then turn your signal off. Do not wait to signal until you are already in process of changing lanes. It’s also very important to remember to turn your signal off once you are finished changing lanes. Keeping your turn signal on is confusing to the cars around you, because it’s unclear whether you are finished with your maneuver or if you intend to change lanes again.
2. Turning Onto a side street
There’s a big difference between slowing down to make a turn and slowing down because you realized you were speeding. Turning right generally requires slowing down to almost a full stop (and turning left almost always requires coming to a full stop) to ensure you are making the turn at a safe speed and to assess your surroundings. Without your turn signal, the cars behind you are left to guess why you are breaking, and they may misjudge the situation.
3. Out of a side street
Again, your turn signal communicates your intent to the cars around you. It also determines who gets the right-of-way when you are turning out of a side street where the cross traffic doesn’t stop. In these situations, when it is safe to turn, the person turning right gets the right-of-way regardless of who got to the stop sign first.
4. At a stop light
If the stop light you are approaching has a right turn or left turn only lane, signal that you are getting into that lane, then leave your signal on until you have completed your turn. If there are no turn-only lanes, then it is especially important to signal long before you reach the light so all surrounding cars know what you are doing.
5. At a stop sign
As with stop lights, if there are turn-only lanes, signal that you are getting into that lane and keep your turn signal on until the turn is completed. It is important to have your turn signal on before you reach the stop sign. If you are turning, but don’t have your blinker on, other cars or pedestrians may incorrectly assume it is safe for them to go while you are going.
It cannot be overstated: use your turn signal, and turn it on long before you make your intended maneuver. Flicking on your turn signal takes almost no effort, but it makes a massive difference in your safety and the safety of others.