Do you remember hand turn signals? The cars my parents owned when I was a child didn’t have turn signals, which had been introduced by Buick in 1939, eight years before I was born, but didn’t really make it onto most vehicles until much later. Also, my family was not wealthy, and their cars were usually at least 10 years old. I’m not certain, but I don’t think electric, flashing turn signals were required until sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.
Nowadays, all vehicles are required to have turn signals, but you’d be hard-pressed to know it based on how often people don’t use them. Let me say here that I’m well aware there are lots of circumstances when a turn signal is functionally unnecessary, but in the last few years I’ve noticed lots of people just don’t use them at all, regardless of the situation.
I like to think of these simple devices as one of our earlier forms of social media. A method for people inside their vehicles to (you’d think) effortlessly announce their intentions. “Hey! Check it out. I’m slowing down for no apparent reason, so I’m letting you know I plan on turning off this road very soon.”
Or “I see you sitting there at the bottom of that tee intersection, expecting me to continue along the road, so I’m letting you know I’m actually going to turn onto the street you’re on and you can pull out now instead of waiting for me to pass.”
This type of signalling is, it seems to me, a simple, easy-to-do form of showing respect for others on the road — kinda like a “golden rule.” Unfortunately, as our society seems to be slipping deeper and deeper into the abyss of unprincipled narcissism, led by our erstwhile POTUS, the sociopathy inherent in ignoring simple, respectful customs is increasing and serving to further coarsen our driving (and all other, it would seem) discourse.
I’ve been noticing this for over a decade, and I’m a bit ashamed to say it didn’t fully occur to me how representative such a seemingly small thing could be of the direction our nation was heading in. I had a blog for a while I called “The Cranky Curmudgeon” and I wrote mostly about things that were pissing me off, like people who leave their shopping carts adjacent to, or in the middle of parking spaces, rather than taking a moment to return them to a collection area; or those who decided they really didn’t want that frozen meal they put in their cart, so decided to just leave it on an unrefrigerated shelf in some random place of the market; or the driver going much slower than you changing into your lane when there’s nobody behind you.
I noticed these things and used my blog to complain about them. Mostly it was personally cathartic, but I don’t believe any of my writing has captured much attention. Nevertheless, I enjoyed doing it and it really was a good method for getting things off my chest. I just wish I had made the conceptual leap from the everyday degradation of common decency, to the complete lack of responsibility toward the “general welfare” so evident in our national political leadership, especially the Republican Party and conservatism in general. I’m not sure it would have changed anything for me, but it does feel — in retrospect — like I missed some rather startling clues.
At any rate, since I drive my youngest daughter to school, as well as pick her up, every day of the week, I see this behavior (or lack of what I consider to be appropriate and legal – activity) constantly. As I noted earlier, clearly there are time when using one’s turn signals is not really necessary, but I think getting out of the habit ends up with lots of people just neglecting to ever use them. It’s an epidemic of disrespect for one’s fellow drivers. So, please, get in the habit of using those damn turn signals. They’re a social signal as well . . . and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all respect each other a bit more than is currently done?
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