A Defensive Driver Always Signals

Turn SignalDuring the question and answer portion of any group presentation that I give, someone always asks about the use of turn signals. They are either curious to know what they must do or are being sarcastic about the drivers that they see around them that  never signal. It's usually the latter but when asked to articulate, most drivers don't know exactly what is required of them by law and what a defensive driver will choose to do for safety.

Regardless of the fact that you may be the only vehicle on the highway, you must always signal a start from a stopped position or when making a lane change. If you are turning, you are only required to signal if your turn will affect surrounding traffic. Oddly enough, a semaphore arm may still be a legal method of giving a signal in addition to hand and arm signals or signal lights.

In my defensive driving classes I was told that I must always signal any start, turn or lane change. A lane change was considered to have happened if I moved more than half a vehicle width to the left or right. This meant that I had to signal left and then right if I moved partially out of my lane to drive safely around an obstruction at the side of the road.

If you always signal correctly and make a driving error you will show your intention to surrounding traffic. This may be enough to prevent a collision.

Finally, ask any emergency vehicle driver and they will tell you that when they are asking for right of way with lights and siren activated, signal your intention to get out of the way and then follow that signal without fail. They will worry about getting around you safely after that.

Reference Links:

Some random thoughts from my random brain.

  • The original legal requirement to signal one's intentions to other drivers must surely have been a consequence of early collision analysis.
  • The most fundamental right-of-way rule must surely have been Section 169: Starting Vehicle.  Not only is a driver required to signal their intention, but if they move the vehicle and this causes a collision, then it's their fault, plain and simple.  And that includes bus drivers, incidentally, no matter what some of them seem to think.
  • It may seem odd that signalling turns is somewhat optional, depending on whether traffic may be affected, while signals for lane changes are mandatory.  But that's surely a reflection of motoring history; in the early days of motoring, driving was a significantly physical task - try driving a farm tractor or vintage vehicle without power steering or syncromesh transmission (and maybe a hand throttle) and you'll see what I mean.  So expecting every driver in every circumstance to stick his arm out or up or whatever (electrically operated signals only appeared about 75 years ago) wasn't reasonable or necessary.  But by the time that laned traffic was introduced, most new vehicles were equipped with a simple trafficator (isn't that a cool word?) so signalling had become simple and easy.
  • Regarding the above: you may find it interesting to see the definition of 'Traffic'.  Yes, you do need to signal to pedestrians.  And horses.  And flocks of sheep ...
  • An instructor at a Driving School I used to work for (name of Keith, an excellent fellow) once shared this tip with me: that he would tell every student driver receiving tuition from him that it wasn't enough just to signal, but that as a driver you should know exactly who you are signalling to, and try to determine whether or not they have noticed the message you've just sent.  Brilliant!  Defensive Driving, practically explained.
  • Exception to the 'rule' above?  Entering a highway/freeway when you're on a ramp.  Why?  Because so often, you'll be merging from a different elevation, and/or at an angle that renders your mirrors useless, although the traffic on the highway are easily able to see you.  So having that signal going good and early can't hurt, and might just give them more time to respond to the situation you're about to create.
  • You know those drivers who sit at a red light in the lane ahead of you, then when the light changes they move up a bit and put the left signal on, leaving you stuck behind them?  Totally illegal see Section 170(2).  Exactly how many of them actually ever get ticketed for this offensive behaviour can be found in a separate Thread on this site; it ain't very many, believe me!
  • According to police reports, one of the main triggers of road-rage is when the other driver doesn't signal.
  • When ICBC redesigned the modern Class 5/7 Road Test from a demerits-based marking system to a requirement system of demonstrated driver behaviour, 'Communication' became one of the five fundamental requirements needed in order to obtain a license.
  • Those Road Tests still commence with 'semaphore' signals.  Why?  Several reasons; if a driver can give hand signals, then logically they will be able to recognize them when other road users (motorcyles, and bicycles in particular come to mind).  They will also be able to drive their vehicles safely (one hopes) even if the flasher unit malfunctions.  And finally, it aids the Driver Examiner in determining the level of communication with the applicant, for whom English may be a second language; this could be crucial during the test.
  • Drivers of expensive German sports sedans such as Audi and BMW are actually exempt from the rules of the road such as signalling ... OK, I made up that last bit ...

No argument with me about 'Signaling'. Good article.

Now, to the picture of the pretty young lady at the top of the article. See her left hand INSIDE the steering wheel. I know a lot of people do it while negotiating a sharp turn, but it is wrong!! Do you agree? It is all to do with having to manage the wheel in a quick manner, usually in the reverse direction should the situation dictate. Further more, if your vehicle is hit mid-turn and the Air Bag deploys while your hand and arm is positioned as in the picture, well you wont be sticking your hand inside the steering for a while because of the Cast on your arm.

The Citizen chose that picture to put with the story, I only submit the words for publication.

I agree with you, this is bad practice for that very reason. During my driver training, we used hand over hand only for parking lot speed movement and shuffle steering for anything faster. We were told never to reach inside the steering wheel like the person in the picture is doing.


Downtown Langley has angle parking. It is tricky backing out especially if you have a large vehicle beside you. Should we have our signal light on?

There isn't any requirement under law for a driver to signal their intended direction when backing; but it can't do any harm.  In combination with the Reversing Lights, it will hopefully make your intentions clear.

However, if any driver's maneuver when backing results in a collision, they will be held completely accountable (unless the other participant was also backing up).