A recent study by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) highlights startling conclusions for those of us who have been listening to warnings about distracted driving. It is true that distraction causes accidents, about 950,000 annually. The SAE found, however, that one simple driving behavior could be linked to more than twice that many motor vehicle accidents per year, around 2 million. That behavior is failure to use turn signals properly when turning or changing lanes.
When a driver doesn’t signal his or her intention to shift to another highway lane, other drivers nearby don’t have the opportunity to modify their own behavior to enhance safety. For example, a car may be speeding up when a vehicle suddenly cuts in front of it from another lane, and it may be too late for the initial driver to avoid rear-end collision. A simple signal of the lane change, though, could have warned the driver not to speed up just then, or to change lanes to avoid the other car.
Drivers are required to signal when turning or changing lanes. Signaling is a fundamental rule of the road, and it’s the law, just like stopping for a red light. The SAE has determined, however, that almost half of drivers either don’t signal when changing lanes, or don’t turn the signal off again after turning it on for a lane change. About a fourth of drivers make this mistake when turning. Engineers estimate that this error happens 2 billion times a day on America’s roads.
The SAE study suggests that law enforcement officers should step up enforcement to help change this behavior. In addition, engineers are currently exploring a design idea for solving part of the problem: a “smart” feature to shut off a turn signal after a lane change is complete. Still, it may be up to individual drivers in Washington to ensure they are using their turn signals to help avoid unnecessary and costly accidents.