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The Indicator

02/12/2023

The usage of the indicator is one of these things we take for granted and comply with without putting much thought into it. But does the logic of its usage stand up to scrutiny? Or is it an unchallenged dogma we never question and accept as part of the natural order of things even if it serves no real purpose?

Having spent a lot of time observing and analysing its usage I now advance the postulate that the indicator is useless at best, frequently confusing, often dangerous and serves only one purpose which is to irritate, if not infuriate the drivers who feel that they have been the victim of a lack of courtesy by other drivers misusing it or failing to use it at all.

In theory, the indicator exists to signal our intention of changing direction in the near future so that other road users can anticipate our next move and adjust their own driving accordingly. That sounds logical, sane and reasonable. It should be enshrined, or should it?

In truth, we never modify our driving decisions based on other road users advertised intention and mostly unconsciously ignore the indicator or should be ignoring it. The only factors that prompt us into making a move or a change and altering our speed or direction are the position, speed, and direction of other vehicles relative to us, right of way rules and traffic signage. This is the only safe and responsible behaviour. We are indeed solely responsible of the safety of our vehicle to others and to relinquish this responsibility to the indicator is mindless and dangerous. Luckily, our brain is more intelligent than we are. We can formulate conscious ideas to justify a conscious decision but, if necessary, our brain will unconsciously assume control, adjust our decision and save us from our own stupidity. Even if we consciously recognise an indicator and feel somewhat safer in that knowledge, our brain will not allow us to take it into account when making a potentially harmful or life-threatening decision.

We often find ourselves having to make a split-second decision based on several physical parameters and artificial rules. The indicator only adds an uncertain and unreliable factor to the complexity of the information we must process. Not to mention the fact, that being human operated, it is prone to human error. People can use it or not, or too early or too late and it should be ignored altogether when making a decision. Indeed, we completely ignore it in most instance, only becoming upset when we think the other drivers should have been using their indicators or have used it inappropriately. The indicator does not contribute anything at all to road safety but contribute much to driver’s stress and also distracts from concentrating on what really matters, the position, speed and direction of other vehicles, all real and physical parameters.

People reading this will instinctively think that this opinion is moronic and that indicators are an absolute necessity, immediately dismiss my postulate without even thinking for one second about it or rush into finding a situation where the indicators is essential. ( before realising that is difficult if not impossible to find  a situation that could justify the usage of the indicator.) .  We have indeed been conditioned to the idea of the indicator being part of the physical world from a very early age, listening to our parents fuming after these idiots not using the indicator, having to study in great details the arcane rules governing its usage, being assessed on its proper usage to be granted a license, having been fined by the police for not indicating, our car failing its warrant if the indicator does not work, having been honked and yelled at if we misuse it, being asked to use it even if there is no one to indicate to, as a way to make it an automatic habit, like Pavlov’s dog. We have been coerced and manipulated, brainwashed and conditioned into thinking of the indicator as a fundamental necessity, like breathing or drinking when thirsty. What kind of a lunatic lone crusader do I think I am to go against something that is so universally accepted as absolute, unquestionable wisdom?

The fact is that road safety statistics do not even rank “failure of signaling” as a cause of road traffic death, injuries or even incident. It does not even register because it simply never happens. Even if many drivers fail to use it or misuse it, it does not cause any trouble at all, other than irritation and anger. What happens often though are situations where a driver took inconsiderate risks because of someone else indicating. Like deciding to enter an intersection even if another vehicle is on a potential collision course, ignoring this physical reality in the foolish hope that this other vehicle will proceed with its indicated intention. Some people will happily take the risk to overtake on the left simply because the vehicle in front is indicating to the right. Indeed, the New Zealand Transport Agency web sites says: “Important: Don’t just rely on the other driver’s signal.”  Which means that the indicator is not sufficient to make a decision. The word “Just” is redundant and simply implies that they are more important factors which we must base our driving on. It could be paraphrased as “Important: ignore the other driver’s signal.” Why then is signaling so essential if it should not be given priority in our decision-making process, ignored even? Confusing? Read on…

I could waste your time by listing the hundreds and thousands of situations where the indicator is completely useless and even dangerous, but I rather encourage you to observe your own behaviour at the wheel and to ask yourself the following questions: Would I have acted differently if this other driver had not used their indicator? Would I have acted any differently if this other driver had indicated as the rules dictated them to do? Would I expect the other vehicle to behave differently based on my signaling? Can I completely trust this other driver to perform its signalled intentions? Am I 100% certain of what exactly these intentions are? The only situations where you will respond yes to any of these questions is when you ignored the speed, direction and location of the other vehicle and made a risky move based on the indicator, against the advice of the New Zealand Transport Agency.

The idea of the indicator is to signal in advance to the other drivers your intention to change direction. Is there any situation where this is actually useful? Nobody should make a driving decision on the basis of someone else probable intention in an undefined future and in fact nobody ever does. Conversely, nobody should assume that the other vehicles will be aware of, fully understand and respect your indicated intention and in fact nobody ever does.

Entering traffic from a parking or a driveway, parking, changing lane, entering an intersection, entering or exiting a roundabout, overtaking, none of these actions should be taken without having first ascertained that the manoeuvre is safe and will not force other vehicles to modify their current course, to slow down, brake, accelerate or swerve to allow or avoid your move. The indicator is never a request or an injunction to other vehicles to alter their driving. We must maintain a safe distance regardless of the other vehicle signaled intentions. Using the indicator never gives you a right nor a priority to perform any of these manoeuvres or to ignore the rules of right of way. If you study the road code, you will know that there is not a single situation where indicating overrules right of way. You just indicate an intention, and so what? it has zero leverage on the rules of right of way, safe distance or road signages and markings. Why does it exist at all? It is beyond reason.

No sane driver would willfully cross the path of another vehicle simply because they have right of way. That would be punishable of negligent and dangerous driving. You will only perform a manoeuvre after having established its safety. Indicating an intention to perform a manoeuvre does not make it any safer at all, never.

One must also consider the fact that a driver is under no obligation to perform it’s signalled intention. If someone indicates a potential turn right but keeps driving straight instead, no offense has been committed and other road users have no reason to get upset, irritated let alone infuriated. We must respect and comply to all and every road rules, but the indicator.

If indicators did not exist, drivers would concentrate and pay attention solely to the 3 essential and really important information’s, the position, speed, and direction of the other vehicles. Nobody would become needlessly upset. Driving would be a safer and less stressful experience.

Like most drivers, you probably think of yourself as a good, experienced, responsible, and considerate driver. So, do I. Before reaching this unorthodox conclusion, I have obviously been trying to find situations where the indicator could be useful and necessary. I challenge you to find even one.

The closer from this I have experienced is when driving on a  motorway and wanting to change lane, perhaps because I intend to take the next exit, or because I think another lane is moving faster. If the lane I want to merge into is slow and busy, I could use my indicator as a polite request to another vehicle to give me room to complete the manoeuvre, but the traffic being slow, the indicator is unnecessary, simply merging in should be signal enough to politely let me in, there is no need to ask for permission, evaluate whether that permission has been granted. I can simply force my way into dense traffic in complete safety, and if indicators did not exist, the other driver would not be upset or frustrated by my manoeuvre, would simply let me in politely. If the traffic is fast and fluid, I would only merge after having ascertained that it is safe to do so and indicating will certainly not make it any safer nor give me right to perform an unsafe maneuver in the foolish hope that others will be aware of and respect my signaling. The same applies to other vehicle indicating an intention, it never affects my assessment of the safety of the merging maneuver.

To further illustrate my point and if you are not already thinking that I could perhaps have a point, I want to analyse just a few simple, and frequent situation. These analyses are to be found as appendices, should you wish to read them.

In all cases, you will realise that indicating or not would not have made the maneuver any different for any vehicles. Drivers must be always alert and in control, maintain a safe distance, be aware of the location, speed and direction of other vehicles, regardless of whether such vehicles indicate or not. The indicator serves absolutely no purpose in any situations.

If I want to change direction, I must first assess whether or not it is safe and then either proceed, abort or wait. Indicating my intention will have absolutely zero impact on the safety of the situation and therefore on my decision. Conversely, other vehicle advertised intentions have zero impact on my assessment of the safety of the situation. I will naturally want to stay alive and will instinctively dismiss such indications as unreliable. The existing rules and regulations enforcing the use of the indicators are only encouraging me to ignore my natural instincts and to perhaps overrule the only physical, factual parameters that are affecting the safety of a situation.

By applying the same rigorous observation to any other driving situation, no matter how rare or how complex, you will realise that the indicator is never necessary and is often confusing or even dangerous. It only gives us a false sense of safety because we have been educated and conditioned that way and feel threatened if the artificial indicator is absent of the perceived reality.

Now, road safety is not the only parameter to consider when thinking about the indicator. Could traffic fluidity be affected positively or negatively by the indicator? It could be argued that a vehicle indicating an intention to perform a particular manoeuvre in the near future could encourage another vehicle to cross its path early rather than wait for absolute safety, saving a split second on its travel time and perhaps allowing any other vehicle waiting behind to proceed earlier thus positively affecting overall traffic fluidity.
A typical example would be a situation where vehicle A is wanting to enter an intersection, but vehicle B is fast approaching from the right. If vehicle B is indicating an intention to turn left or right, A could be led to believe that even if a course of collision is possible, vehicle B may soon alter its course therefore allowing A to take the risk rather than wait to be absolutely sure. This is just one of the many situations where the usage of the indicator is encouraging risky behaviour. Luckily, responsible drivers always ignore the indicator and instead wait for absolute certainty before entering an intersection. A driver may be unaware that its indicator is on or may have been using it too early indicating an intention to turn at the next intersection or may change its mind suddenly. The indicator should be completely ignored, is in fact completely ignored thus making it completely unnecessary. Indicators are particularly untrustworthy with motorbikes.

Let’s also consider the many other manoeuvres that cannot be signalled beforehand and are left to driver’s judgement. A typical example is opening your door against traffic. Or braking. The stop lights only tell other drivers that you are braking, this is not signalling an intention to brake. This is automatic without any human intervention and is therefore a signal that can be trusted.

It must also be noted that, even if some patents have been filed, to the best of my knowledge, none of the existing self-driving car’s algorithms are taking into consideration other vehicle’s indicators in their computation. It is indeed one of the thousands of pieces of information that can be sensed by captors, stored, and analysed but the only one that cannot be trusted and is therefore best ignored.  I predict that once all cars are self-driving, the indicator will completely disappear.

Finally, is the indicator useful at night or in poor visibility conditions? In my opinion, these are the exact conditions where indicators have an even greater potential to be confusing and conflicting and are therefore even more dangerous.

Is the indicator a redundant historical vestige of a time where it had its usefulness? Something that has not adapted to changes and has over the decades remained so firmly ingrained in our collective consciousness that we do not even question it? Early automobiles had to share the road with horse carriages and pedestrians. Horse carriages and pedestrians were slower, and automobiles gained a natural right of way over other road users. It is the other road users who quickly established a code of hand signals to alert the faster automobiles and hopefully avoid being rolled over. Today’s cyclist still used remnants of this code. Soon everyone adopted this language, it became codified and car manufacturers invented several mechanical means to replace it. As car numbers quickly overcome horse carriages and pedestrians were pushed on the sides, the indicator remained and evolved. Its usage became ubiquitous and was even made mandatory. It was never put in question and widely assumed as an essential accessory to road safety. It is still considered that way even without one shred of evidence and zero supporting data, just an enduring collective hallucination perpetuated generation after generation, accepted as a matter of fact without any question.

I do not encourage anyone to suddenly stop using the indicator. I have no intention to start an anti-indicator movement. I still think that its usage should not be mandatory in all and any circumstances. Instead, it’s usage should be left to the driver’s own judgment, for the rare situation where it could be useful, polite and considerate. It should be put back where it belongs, with the drivers own responsibility, not with a mindless blanket rule.

I am only writing all this to exercise my reason, test my logic, play the devil’s advocate and practice the art of writing, of articulating my thoughts, to illustrate the fact that things we take for granted are not always reasonable and that we can question anything, even if only for fun. Like the existence of a god, like washing our hands after urinating where in fact we should wash our hands before urinating. Our genitals are clean and aseptic, it is our hands that are filthy.

If you wish to react: olivieroduhamel@gmail.com

On a similar note.. please read my take on speed limits

Appendix A  T intersection.

Two vehicles are driving in opposite direction towards one another and approaching a T intersection.

If both vehicles intend to drive straight ahead, none must indicate their intention to do so. They will pass one another as if there were no intersection, no indicator needed.

If vehicle A on the lane opposite the intersection wants to turn right and the other vehicle B wants to drive straight ahead or perhaps turn left.
If B is far enough and slow enough, A simply turns left regardless of whether B is indicating or not. Indicating its intention prior to completing the manoeuvre would not have achieved anything. B would not have had a need to alter its speed and direction, indicator or not. The indicator is unnecessary for either vehicles.
If B is too close or too fast, or refusing right of way and turning right, A could cut the path of B, and put the two vehicles on a collision course. Instead, A would responsibly stop and wait until B either passes or turns into the intersecting road before completing the turn, indicating or not.
If A indicted its intention to turn, B would have nothing to do but to keep driving straight ahead or turn left.
If A did not indicate, B would have nothing to do but to either keep driving straight ahead or turn left.
If B indicated its intention to turn left, A would not have to do anything differently and simply wait for B to either pass against its indicated intention or turn left. No indicator needed.
If B did not indicate any intention, A would not have to do anything differently and would simply wait for B to either pass straight or to turn left. No indicator needed.

Appendix B – Overtaking

Another situation that is often presented as a good use of the indicator is overtaking. If you are intending to overtake the vehicle ahead of you, the code mandates you to indicate your intention to do so to the potential following vehicle. But to what purpose? Before initiating an overtaking manoeuvre, you will first ascertain that this will not affect or impede any other traffic ahead or behind. Indicating will not affect your assessment nor your decision. Upcoming traffic may or may not see your indicators but in any case, they do not have to alter their driving in any way. Your indicator is of no use to them.
Following traffic may be in one of two situations.:
They do not have any intention to overtake. They will see you overtake and will keep driving as if nothing happened regardless of whether you indicated or not. The indicator serves no purpose.
If they also have the intention to overtake and see you overtake ahead of them without you having indicated, they will simply either postpone their manoeuvre or follow you if the conditions allow it.
If they see you indicating your intention to overtake, they will simply postpone their manoeuvre or follow you if the conditions allow it. The usage of the indicators would not have prompted either driver to act any differently.
They may also decide to overtake an indicating vehicle. In which case indicating does not make the situation safer at all.
If you see in your mirror that the vehicle following you is indicating, you must then evaluate several other factors before you initiate your overtaking manoeuvre. How soon? Just about or in an uncertain future? is he really? Is he wanting to overtake or to turn into an intersection? Does the indicator give them a right to overtake before me? Which one of us indicated first? The indicator is only adding confusion, perhaps prompting you to overtake earlier than you would have done otherwise. The only safe option is to ignore the indicator and to simply overtake when it is safe to do so.
If both vehicles decide to initiate the manoeuvre at the exact same time, they will still have to keep a safe distance to the other vehicle, regardless of whether the indicator had been used. The indicator serves absolutely no purpose either.
Signalling of an intention to overtake does not prevent a following vehicle to overtake you. In fact many drivers have adopted the habit of indicating for the wrong reason, not to signal an intention to overtake or to do anything but to signal to following vehicles that the road ahead is clear, a highly dangerous behaviour that should be ignored completely and is indeed forbidden in many countries.

Appendix C – The roundabout

I still want to discuss the roundabout. Most people are confused with the rules governing the use of the indicator on a roundabout. This is perfectly understandable as these rules are simply idiotic. If there is one situation where the indicator is clearly, obviously unnecessary, it is the roundabout. I let you figure it out by yourself.
The Place de l’Étoile in Paris is probably one the first ever roundabout and one of the largest where 12 four lanes avenues are converging around the arc de Triomphe monument.  There is no road marking, no signage and no rules other than giving right of way to the right, always, which means that, unlike all other roundabouts, entering vehicles have right of way and they don’t have to indicate their intention, they just have to enter. Once in the ring of this circus, drivers naturally only pay attention to what is happening right in front and slightly to the right and completely ignore whatever is happening anywhere else. Nobody is ever using the indicator, except perhaps a lost English tourist. What use 200 indicators all going off at once? In any case we are all going to exit on the right. We are all here with the same intention of changing direction at any time. Yet, this is one of the safest intersections in the whole country.

Appendix D – Parking

There is a situation where using the indicator is detrimental to traffic fluidity. If you are cruising around searching for a parking spot, you may think that a parked vehicle indicating is about to free its spot. This is encouraging you to stop and wait for the spot to be free for you to occupy and to hold up the traffic behind you in the process. This is a selfish and antisocial behaviour actually forbidden by many country’s road code.  On the other hand if a parked vehicle is manoeuvring to merge into traffic, and is therefore blocking you way, you must stop and wait for the manoeuvre to be completed before proceeding, regardless of whether an indicator was used or not. The manoeuvring vehicle would have to wait for safe clearance in traffic and indicating an intention does not make an unsafe situation any safer.

If you are looking for a spot in a line of parked cars and find one that is best entered with a parallel park reverse manoeuvre, you will need to slow down, stop your car alongside the row and reverse into the free spot. Indicating you intention to perform this manoeuvre will not affect the behaviour of the following vehicle. If you slow down and stop, the following vehicle must also slow down, stop, and let you complete your parking manoeuvre before proceeding, regardless of whether you indicated or not. If the traffic is dense and the following vehicle is too close for you to perform a parallel park, you are out of luck. Indicating your intention to park does not give you a right to park and you must drive on. In this situation, the usage of the indicator is simply a request to the following vehicle to stop and give you enough room to complete the manoeuvre. The following vehicle may understand your request and choose to give you this courtesy, but they are in no way obligated to do so. They are only obligated to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles, and you have no reasons to give them the finger for doing just that.

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