I like to think I am a courteous driver, and I know that it can be tough changing lanes on a busy motorway. When I see someone’s turn signal on ahead of me, I usually try to give them room to make the lane change. However, there is one thing that irks me to no end about the design of vehicles in North America, and that is the double standard color of tail lights on vehicles. A lot of imports seem to have gotten it right: turn signals are yellow. However, many of the domestic cars I see on the road tend to still have the brake lights flash when the driver is really intending to make a turn, a practice that I think makes no sense and should be changed. Here’s why:
Brake lights mean “I am slowing down or stopping”, turn signals mean “I intend to change lanes or alter my direction of travel from the status quo.”
In order to determine whether a brake light is being used as a turn signal, you need to be able to see both tail lights, and to study them for a few cycles of operation; if they both light together, the driver is braking – if only one of them is flashing, he is probably turning. If one is lit solid and the other is flashing, the driver is slowing down AND intending to make a turn. When the running lights are on, the brake lights already appear to be on, and you have to pay even closer attention to determine what that driver’s intention may be.
Often while driving, you can only see one of tail lights on a car, truck, van, bus, etc. With brake lights sharing signal duty, it is not always clear if the driver is trying to turn or is just tapping the brakes. This is particularly so in bumper-to-bumper traffic, when a driver may be braking and letting off the brake frequently as his vehicle crawls forward. Drivers in adjacent lanes who cannot see both of his tail lights may misinterpret his brake light signals for wanting to change into their lanes. Conversely, the driver who assumes that the brake lights mean just that – braking, may assume he is merely slowing his vehicle down. The driver with his turn signal on gets frustrated because no one is letting him in, while the drivers in lanes adjacent to him take little notice of his repetitive braking habits, and think he is an irresponsible driver when he eventually juts into their lane, apparently without giving any warning of his intention.
When you see a yellow turn signal light on, you always know that driver may need to be given some room. Even if they are using them as hazard lights, the reaction of “give that guy some space” is still appropriate. When hazard lights share the brake lights, you lose the hazard blink whenever the brakes are applied. When hazard lights are yellow, they can continue to flash giving other drivers warning of your condition, while still allowing the brake lights to indicate your intention to slow down or stop.
If all turn signals were yellow, much confusion could easily be avoided. Besides, all front-facing turn signals are already required to be yellow, so amending the rules to include rear turn signals is not a giant leap. It would not have to be retroactive, all existing vehicles made under the old laws could be grandfathered in, but going forward for the generations of drivers to come, it sure could save a lot of unnecessary frustration on the road.