When you've spent significant time riding a bike in traffic, you become acutely attuned to the cars moving around you. And because as a biker your life is literally on the line out there, you tend to become highly sensitive to careless, sloppy drivers.
For example, I'm a calm guy—even-keeled to a fault. But there's one thing that never fails to make me want to go postal, and that's when I'm on my commute through the city and I see a car not using turn signals. And it is pretty much a guaranteed daily occurrence.
And so, I humbly ask:
PEOPLE, WHY, OH WHY IN THE NAME OF THE MERCIFUL GOD OR GODS OR YOUR CHOICE, WON'T YOU USE YOUR FUCKING TURN SIGNALS?!?!?!?!?
Pardon my French. But really, it's such an easy thing to do. And the fact that so many don't is rich with meaning.
It's a behavior that crosses all social boundaries. SUV drivers, Prius drivers, cab drivers, truck drivers—they all seem about equally inclined to blow off using their turn signals. With all the stopping Metro buses do, you might expect consistent signaling from them. But you'd be wrong. Even the police don't always signal.
And then there are the ones who wait to the last second to click it on, as if they feel some need to minimize the amount of time they have the signal running, while still begrudgingly obeying the law. But hello folks, the whole reason you signal is so that others know what you're going to do in advance.
And then there are those who don't signal when they think no one else is around. But those are exactly the circumstances in which accidents happen—when drivers are wrong in their assumptions about what's happening around them.
And yes, sometimes people simply space out and forget. I know, because I drive a car (gasp!) and I've done it. (Though there's no doubt in my mind that being a cyclist has made me a more attentive driver.)
Compared to signaling at normal turns, signal use is even less consistent when people change lanes, pull in or out of parking spaces, or pull over to stop. But the law says you must signal in all those situations—pretty much any time you do something other then go straight down the road. Not that the police enforce those laws. The average person would be seriously pissed if they got ticketed for not signaling.
But it doesn't have to be this way. I once spent two months driving around central Europe and whether it was the Autobahn or a country road in Hungary, people used their turn signals religiously.
As a cyclist in the city I know have to ride defensively, and that drivers may not be able to see me. All I ask is that they make the tiniest effort and use turn signals to let me know what they're going to do so I can stay out of their way.
But this isn't a bikes versus cars issue. Because when drivers use turn signals, they are helping themselves and other drivers more than anyone else. Consistent turn signal use makes travel by car both safer and more efficient.
Driving a car is the most dangerous activity in the average person's daily life—more than 40,000 Americans are killed in car accidents every year. In a society that tends to be risk averse to the extreme, how can there be such a psychological disconnect about the risks associated with careless driving?
And what is it about Americans and their wacked aversion to using turn signals?
Part of it is likely a manifestation of our cult of individualism, as in, "Why should I do anyone else any favors by signaling when it's every man for himself out there in the jungle of urban traffic?"
And part of it is likely caused by the dehumanzing influence of powerful machines like cars. Put normal, decent human beings inside the isolating, protective cocoon of a car and watch how they devolve into sociopaths.
And no doubt, part of it is just plain old ordinary human laziness, combined with the competing, hectic demands of everyday life.
Whatever the cause, surely it is one of the great ironies of the world that the most car-dependent culture on the planet is overrun with such shitty drivers.
Oh, I'm sorry. Was that provocative?