December 28, 2012
I know, I know. The wrist thing.
Your wrists, they are tired from all the bending they do, all the supporting of the hands and the connecting to the forearms.
This, obviously, explains why you, driver of an older white Ford Mustang at 8:52 p.m. Dec. 18, turning right on to Randolph Street from Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park, were unable to activate your vehicle's turn signal.
I sympathize. Believe me, I do. Modern life is hard already. There is incivility everywhere, massive unemployment, accelerating global warming.
Why make it more difficult by adding the onerous burden of flicking one's wrist in a roughly 4-degree arc so that you, operator of a highly combustible, 3,600-pound rolling metal box capable of surpassing 100 mph, can let the drivers of other similarly large, fast and flammable machines know what you are planning to do?
They'll figure it out soon enough, right?
Why employ a basic safety system and take all the guesswork out of the motor vehicle game, an enjoyable activity that, after all, has only killed 937 people in the state this year as of Monday, according to the constantly updating signs on Illinois highways.
When the number hits 1,000, sure, maybe then you'll start thinking about safety. But 937 hardly merits changing one's long-standing routine of being unpredictable — a rogue, a rebel, a wild card — while navigating crowded roads.
You've gotta be you, no matter what the law might say. I support you in this credo, even though, in this case, you being you meant that I had to pump my brakes and swerve to slow down and avoid joining your vehicle in a kind of unintended holiday train. The three sixth-graders I was driving home from practicing hockey, a sport where collisions are part of the fun, might have thought that was pretty cool.
It is probably comforting to you to know that you, white Mustang driver, are not alone. Three out of 5 drivers, according to a survey conducted for an insurance company, do not employ turn signals when changing lanes on the highway.
"National Survey Reveals Why Drivers Don't Use Turn Signals," said the headline when Response Insurance put this study before the public in the middle of the last decade. "Too Lazy — It Adds Excitement to Driving — Not Enough Time."
It is impressive that so high a proportion of 1,000 surveyed drivers were willing to tell someone they don't know that it's just too hard or too time-consuming — or too boring! — to flick their wrists while hurtling along. Bravo for the honesty.
Even more impressive, from April of this year, was this analysis, for the Society of Automotive Engineers: "Turn Signal Usage Rate Results: A Comprehensive Field Study of 12,000 Observed Turning Vehicles."
Ohio engineer Richard Ponziani drove around Dayton for almost two years using hand-held clickers to take note of his fellow citizens' "turn signal neglect rate."
No data were provided on how the long-term use of hand-held clickers might affect a driver's on-road performance. But Ponziani did find that when changing lanes, his peers failed to use blinkers 48 percent of the time, a figure reasonably close to the self-reported number in the Response Insurance survey. When making turns, Ponziani discovered, fellow motorists failed to comply with turn-signal law 25 percent of the time.
Then, citing the effectiveness of automatic brake lights and drunken-driving and seat belt awareness campaigns, Ponziani tried to pitch his own automatic blinker system, called Intelliturn. It monitors drivers' blinker usage and flashes them a warning if they repeatedly fail to use turn signals.
Ponziani may be scheming to sell a product, but in terms of the data he collected, he makes a rational case.
Here's a refresher course, Mr. or Ms. Oak Park Mustang, in case you decide to find out what it's like to use a turn signal. The blinker is on a stalk protruding from the left side of the base of your steering wheel. Sometimes you can find it by looking for a drawing of a glowing light. Or it might just have up and down arrows on it.
Now comes the tricky part. When you push the stalk up or down, a small light comes on in your dashboard. Do not be alarmed — this does not mean anything is wrong with the car. You do not (necessarily) need an oil change. Your car is not reminiscing about the '70s and trying to turn into a disco.
It is merely symbolizing that outside the car, something magical is happening. On both the front and back of your car — and on your rearview mirror, too, on newer vehicles — a yellow light is flashing on and off.
This signifies to fellow drivers that you are about to turn in the direction of the side of the car on which the light is flashing.
Alerted by your blinker, those drivers then know to slow down because the odds are that you will have to slow down to turn. If they hit their brakes, then on come bright red lights on the back of their cars, serving as another kind of warning to the people behind them.
You see how it's all interconnected and, arguably, a useful thing in the kind of cars that are not encased in rubber strips and powered by poles that draw electricity from the ceiling?
Using the blinker may be the law, but I don't mean to suggest that it's, like, mandatory in the same way that, say, pushing a lot of buttons to find a decent song on your car radio is mandatory. That can take a little effort sometimes, but when the right tune comes on? Totally worth it.
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