Correct Signaling To Avoid Road Accidents

A turn signal only warns other road users what you intend to do. It does not give you the right to do it. You first have to check that your way is clear, and that you will not endanger any other road user.

Remember the Highway Code dictum: Mirrors - Signal - Maneuver. The examiner will notice whether you remember that the mirrors-check must always be before your signal. Test examiners recognize that for turns flashing indicators are best. This is mainly because arm signals are less easily seen by day and hopelessly difficult to see by night. (See also fig. 1.) You are therefore not normally asked to give arm turn signals as you drive on your Test. Nevertheless, examiners want to ensure both that you can recognize the correct arm turn signals, and that you could use them yourself if necessary, as in the case of sudden failure of your flashing indicators, or for telling a policeman or traffic warden the way you want to go. So you can still expect to be asked questions about the arm turn signals, or to have to demonstrate any of them, though probably not with the car on the move.

The Highway Code points out that you can always reinforce a flashing indicator signal with an arm signal. This might be very useful, for example, on a very bright sunny day when flashing indicators show up less well.


Fig. 1. Unseen arm turn signal. In this picture A and B, and the motorcyclist, cannot see the signal at all! B, passing at the junction, is driving dangerously, breaking the Highway Code rule “You MUST NOT overtake … at a road junction.”

At roundabouts, flashing indicators are the only viable signals. The special care needed with their timing is best studied in conjunction with roundabout lane discipline.

Flashing Indicator Signals

In fig. 1, apart from the problem of the arm turn signal being hidden, the driver shown turning left is appallingly positioned. The car is too far out, which has encouraged the motorcyclist to risk moving up on the inside. And, because the driver has not begun to point the car to the left even though it's almost at the line, the way it is placed on the road reveals no clue as to where that driver wants to go. As a car driver making a left turn of this sort, you must learn to hug the curb both as you position and when you come to pull out. Then everyone should know what you're up to. Nevertheless, even though having checked your mirrors earlier, you still need a final double-check over your shoulder too, to be sure you cannot squash anyone on two wheels who might be trying to get up alongside. Such a person may be foolish and in breach of the Highway Code rules, but it's best to let that be; you dare not risk knocking over a two-wheeler, who is so much more vulnerable than you are.

In contrast, an articulated lorry cannot always hug the curb like a car should do. That has to leave substantial room so as to avoid battering the curb. So never move up alongside on the left of a heavy wagon at any junction unless you know it cannot be wanting to turn left; wait 'til you are sure!

Flashing indicator turn signals should normally be given in plenty of time; that is, just after you check in your mirrors, prior to taking up the correct position for your turn. Then they should stay on until the turn is completed.

The flashing indicator is designed to self-cancel; it does so the very next time you turn the wheel by any material amount in the opposite direction to that in which you have the indicator set. Thus it should cancel itself as you straighten up after your turn. If your turn is only slight, however, it may not cancel itself automatically. Therefore develop a habit of checking, after every turn, that the control stalk has flipped back. Spread the habit to those times when you have signaled for changing lane, or for moving off(signals you should always do!), because then you don't turn the steering very much but the car doesn't know you are not going to … How annoying it is to follow a fellow whose indicator is still flashing away merrily when its use is finished. This can be the cause of a serious accident. Such a forgetful driver, you should note, is in any case likely to turn in any direction without remembering to change that signal.

Another serious mistake which learners, unfamiliar with the multiple nature of the flashing indicator control stalk, are apt to make, is to inadvertently flash their headlights (by pulling the stalk towards themselves), whilst trying to indicate left or right.

To give a turn signal too soon can sometimes be as great a mistake as to give it too late. Imagine you are on a major road which has many intersecting turnings. If you intend to turn off into a road which may be three or four intersections away, you must not signal too soon because other drivers may then mistakenly assume that you intend turning at the first junction, and not the third, or perhaps fourth, as you may have in mind. A driver waiting to come out of one of the earlier turnings may pull out right in front of you. In this situation, you must delay signaling until you have passed the road next-before the one you are going to turn into. If you were coming the opposite way to a car , and intending to turn right into other than the first turning, you would have to signal and take up a “crown of the road” position well before the first turning. Then you would cancel the signal until the appropriate moment to begin it again, to be judged finely, just as in the left turning situation. Otherwise, a driver exiting from road B to turn right, might jump the gun into a collision course with you. that driver assuming you were going down road C, when in fact you were heading for road A!

Notice that when you meet a major road and you intend to go straight ahead as soon as it is safe for you to cross it, you give no flashing indicators at any stage.

Arm Signals

As “arm” signal implies, the whole arm has to be used. They are not “hand” signals drooping from a limp wrist.

Look at fig. 2. Notice three things:

1. That there is a special signal to indicate your intention of turning left to a person controlling traffic, but that it will not necessarily be seen by followers. Therefore both types may be needed at different stages. The special signal is normally only for use if you are stopped waiting at the front of a queue.

2. That it is incorrect to give a slow-down signal at any stage of turning right or left, or pulling in to the nearside curb. The turn signal which you use, itself implies slowing down.

3. As distinct from using no flashing indicator for straight on, there is an arm signal - to be given when it is useful to confirm where you want to go, to people controlling traffic.


Fig. 2. Correct arm signals.

To be learned properly all the arm signals need to be put into practice.

They must be given in a concise, definite and distinct way, in plenty of time, and with as much of your arm out of the window as you can comfortably and safely manage.

In the case of arm turn signals, this need not mean using them every time you go out, but they must be tried at least on one or two occasions during your lessons. They must always be accompanied by the appropriate flashing indicator (unless that is temporarily broken). The slow-down arm signal needs practice in all your later lessons, because, quite rightly, you are still expected to give it on Test, whenever an appropriate occasion arises.

An arm turn signal should not be unduly prolonged. It must be completed well before you reach the junction, because you must have both hands on the steering wheel whilst going round. Add your arm turn signal during the third gear stage as you prepare for the turn. This should be about 75 meters before it; however, if you are going slowly, a little later may be best. You can help yourself to ample time for the arm turn signal by making your change to 3rd a little earlier than normal. In practice, you have to do that, because the gear change and arm signal cannot be done simultaneously. That would mean letting go of the wheel completely and that would mean Test failure because you must never take both hands off the wheel at once!

There is normally no need to repeat an arm turn signal. One clear-cut arm turn signal is usually sufficient. However, if you have given the signal prior to arriving at some traffic lights, and then you have been held up at the lights, give a further signal before setting off again at green. Traffic conditions will have changed over the length of time you have waited, and there may, by then, be other road users around who have yet to become aware of your intended turn.

The Slow-Down Signal

When you are in a traffic stream which has been flowing nicely, you should try to use a “slow-down” signal if you all have to slow or stop. The most important times are when you are at the front of a stream, or will be the first member of it who has to slow or stop. It can be especially good driving at traffic lights or a pedestrian crossing, because other people in the situation who might be affected (coming the other way for example) may not notice or be able to see, the reason for the stopping. Give it as soon as you have checked your mirrors and changed into 3rd gear. Examiners do like to see the “slowdown” signal given when traffic conditions merit its use. Your brake lights automatically alert the people behind, but the arm signal adds emphasis. It can also confirm to pedestrians that you are stopping for them.

Imagine driving briskly along the open road when some unexpected obstruction crops up. You are going to have to stop quickly although it won't be an “emergency stop”. You can leave out changing down the gears if you have to, but do try to use a “slow-down” arm signal if time permits, and flash your brake lights on and off at the start of your braking (again, only if there is time), so that they awaken drivers behind to the fact that there is something unexpected happening. Remember that many drivers go along in a daydream, gazing at the scenery and thinking lovely thoughts. That is the cause of many of the “concertina” type crashes. Their eyes are open but they are wide asleep. After any sudden stop, keep your brake lights flashing until you can see people behind have reacted.

Pulling In To The Nearside (Left Side) To Stop By The Curb

Always use your left flashing indicator. Start it after you have checked your mirrors before beginning to slow down, and at least 75 meters ahead of where you intend to stop. Take 3rd gear to help you slow; as you are stopping, there is no need for any further downward change. Cancel the signal once stopped.

A left turn arm signal can sometimes add to safety by confirming your flashing indicator. It prevents drivers behind from failing to appreciate you are stopping. Even if they didn't notice you start your indicator, they can then hardly imagine that you might have left it flashing by mistake.

On Test, the examiner asks you to pull up at the left side of the road from time to time. When the request is phrased for you to, “stop on the left when you can”, you are expected to select the next safe spot, taking account of parking rules, and of its suitability with regard to other traffic. (You would for example, I hope, never attempt to pull in so close to a turning that your car might block people's view! - not to mention that the Highway Code states you mustn't even wait, never mind park, within 15 meters of a junction!) When the examiner wants you to reverse into a limited opening, he or she will be specific about where you are to pull in. It will be nearby to the opening chosen although a safe distance away from it. As the opening will, more often than not, be one to the left the examiner will also be watching to see that you time your signal for pulling in, carefully, so that nobody else can mistake your intention of stopping after the turning, rather than going into it.

Your stop may be preparatory to reversing into a parking space amongst a long line of parked cars. Left flashing indicator tells people behind you want to pull in, but a left turn arm signal given as well, draws their attention better. Hopefully, if they cannot pass straightaway, they will stop far enough back from you to let you do your initial reverse inwards.

Passing A Parked Vehicle Or Road works

Learners often signal their intention to overtake a parked vehicle regardless of circumstances. It is necessary if a wide detour is being made, but is frequently not needed if you are not going to have to stop, and if your car is positioned in plenty of time ready for the overtake. You should be able to anticipate well ahead, check your mirrors, and bear out gradually. Do signal if a driver behind is very close or “threatening” to pass you. Do signal - from well in advance - if you will have to stop. Keep it on while waiting. Cancel it as you set off.

It is better always to signal for small obstructions at night - or whenever those behind are less likely to be able to see what the problem is - but never prolong a signal of this kind. Drivers behind may think you are going to turn right.

Remember that, depending on room, you stop to give right of way to approaching traffic when a car or obstruction is on your side of the road. When the obstruction is on the other side the opposite should apply. But I'm afraid you are going to meet some diabolical drivers who try to “barge” through, when it is they who should stop. Assume nothing. Be prepared to stop yourself until you see that they are going to.

Sometimes, if you are to be obliged to stop on a steep uphill, drivers coming down will courteously choose to stop for you instead. Don't depend on it! However, in the converse situation, show kindness and wait - saving them having to face a stiff uphill start.

The Moving Off Signal When Pulling Out From The Curb

Occasionally, when a road is entirely clear, you can dispense with a moving off signal; however most places nowadays are always sufficiently busy for a signal to be helpful to someone, whether they appear behind just as you move, or they are coming the other way, or you have failed to notice them … Therefore, a good personal rule is always to include right flashing indicator; part two of this rule is to remember the cancel habit immediately you are going!

The time to begin this signal is when you release the handbrake. Then, with the handbrake off and holding the car steady under clutch control, you must check specifically that there is nothing approaching from behind. Look in your mirrors (which you may have been able to do already). Confirm what you see there, by turning your head round to look over your right shoulder. Once everything is going to be clear behind for a decent length of time, look in front again and get going smartly if it is still safe. N.B.1: A common and potentially dangerous learners’ mistake is to begin creeping forward whilst still looking backwards. Don't! Suppose someone has walked in front of you! N.B.2: Whilst turning your head to the front again, be sure to look out for anyone stepping out from either side smack in front of your bonnet. That too, is a favorite, if unbelievable, form of pedestrian madness.

With heavy passing traffic, and, maybe, pedestrians about, you often have to return to “square one” of this combined Smooth Take-Off and looking process, perhaps several times, before a chance comes up to move off safely with everything clear at once. Cancel your flashing indicator meantime; start it afresh when you come to release the handbrake again.

Fig. 3 illustrates a common accident, when the additional problem of getting out from behind a parked car both tempts a driver to depend on mirrors alone, and causes him or her to forget to signal. Driver number 2 is going happily along when number 1 (often a van or lorry) pulls out without having looked directly behind over the right shoulder. Number 2 swings out to avoid number 1 and hits number 3. Someone is probably killed. If number 1 had physically checked over his or her shoulder this would not have happened.


Fig. 3. A very common accident.

Wherever you come to a parked vehicle which could have a driver in it, you dare not take it for granted that that driver is aware that you are coming - that the person concerned will not swing out from the curb unexpectedly. Observant drivers try never to get into a situation where such untimely action by another driver could cause an accident. They leave a minimum of one door's opening width between themselves and any stopped vehicle which they are passing. They also cut their own speed down sufficiently to be able to take evasive action or stop if necessary - either if it does happen, if a door is opened carelessly, or if hidden children dash out from behind the vehicle after a ball etc. And where there is a line of parked vehicles they exercise even more care. They know that to swing out as number 2 did puts them in the wrong too, never mind the danger. Two wrongs don't (re)make a life.

Emergencies such as those just described DO HAPPEN!

Control your speed according to the adequateness of the space you are able to leave.

You can increase your chances for safety, as you approach any such stationary vehicle, if you watch for any tell-tale signs that it might pull out - brake lights going off, driver's window winding down… etc. A hoot is appropriate to warn the driver of your presence. If you see someone preparing to go, train yourself to glance at the vehicle's offside front wing and wheel. Movement there is usually the first to show, and it's proof!

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