Your Turn Signals Aren't Right-of-Way Indicators

The average driver's guide to not driving like a jerk.

Ask several people to raise their hands if they think they're above-average drivers, and most everyone will have a hand in the air. Obviously, at least half of them are wrong. In fact, given the bell-shaped nature of normal distributions, we know that a lot more than half are wrong and about 70 percent of drivers are clustered somewhere between one standard deviation above or below the mean. Only about 15 percent of drivers truly qualify as "above average" or better—which is to say chances are that you're actually an average driver, or worse. Even if you're not—and you're totally not—five out of every six of your friends are, so share this advice with those who need it. Here we present an installment of the Average Driver's Guide to Not Driving Like a Jerk; watch for more soon.

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Turn signals (or indicators) are really cool, and if you use them, people will know of your intentions while behind the wheel. That's great, and we strongly recommend using them when called for. However, most drivers seem to think the turn-signal stalk is some sort of magic wand, which, when activated, provides the right of way to their desired lane. It does not.

To those people, we'll say this: Simply activating your turn signal does not put a burden on anyone around you to modify their course to allow you to put your car somewhere it wouldn't otherwise fit. The burden is on you to assess the conditions in the lanes ahead and beside of you, your route, and your vehicle's position on the road. If you know you're going to have to turn left in half a mile, don't drive another 3/8 of a mile in the right lane, turn on your blinker, and then drive nearly perpendicular across three lanes of traffic (I see people do this many times each week). Instead, regulate your speed so that the car beside you in the lane you want to move into falls ahead or behind, then signal and make a smooth lane change. They have the right of way, you do not; it's on you to get into that lane without impeding other vehicles.

If you have to significantly slow or stop traffic to change lanes, outside of very few exceptions, you are breaking the law (look up the "impeding traffic" statute in your state). On top of breaking the law, you're being a jerk. Worse still, if you're doing all of this and taking five or more seconds to complete the lane change, you're not just impeding one lane of traffic, but two. Double jerk.

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