The other day on my way home from work, when I was a block away from my house, I pulled over and called my son Jake, who’s back from college for the summer. I asked him to come out to the front porch and check if my left-hand turn signal light was out. He emerged onto the porch as I pulled up, and turned two big thumbs up as I tested first my left-hand signal and then the right one. “Both working,” he assured me when I got out. “What’s up?”
“Some jerk pulled right out in front of me at the four-way stop at Wilson and Franklin,” I told him. “I absolutely had the right-of-way, and I had my left-hand turn signal on. And he still nearly plowed into me. I figured the light must be out.” Because, really, why else would somebody almost drive into my car like that?
Jake shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you. He was an idiot, I guess.”
A little while later, as I was starting dinner, another possibility occurred to me. I went into the living room, where Jake was playing a game on his computer. “When you play a driving game, are there turn signals?” I asked him.
He looked at me the way he usually does these days, which is as if he’s pretty sure I’m brain-damaged. “Are there what?”
“Turn signals. When you’re playing one of those games where you drive. Like Grandstand Auto.”
Now he was sure of it. “Grand Theft Auto.”
“Whatever! Are there turn signals?”
“No,” he said patiently. “There are only so many buttons you can use. You’re trying to shoot people with guns. Why would you want to signal them what you’re going to do?”
“I was just thinking. Maybe the guy at the four-way plays a lot of video games. Maybe he doesn’t know what a turn signal is.”
“You have to use them to pass your driver’s test,” Jake pointed out.
I’ll take his word for it, seeing as he’s taken the test a lot more recently than I have. But I have noticed that people don’t use turn signals anymore. They don’t use them when they’re changing lanes on the Expressway. They don’t use them in the parking lot at the Giant. They don’t use them when they’re tooling around our small town. This despite the fact that turn signals have gotten much gaudier and more visible in recent years; now they blink at you from side mirrors and in the back window as well as from beside your brake lights. When you use them, that is.
I can understand why the makers of Grand Theft Auto wouldn’t have included turn signals in their game’s arsenal. But I can’t understand why anyone who’s doing 79 mph on Route 422 and about to pass another car that’s doing 78 mph wouldn’t want the driver of the 78-mph-car to know what he intends to do. Don’t we live in the Information Age? Isn’t knowledge power? Why keep everybody else on the road in the dark?
I’m sure somebody in the comments section will correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s illegal not to use your turn signal when you’re changing lanes or turning. I think you can get a ticket for a moving violation. Every morning on my way to work, I see six or eight state police cars along 422. I guess they have bigger fish to fry than lane-change violators. For example, they need to sit by the side of the road to warn drivers to slow down to 40 mph near the Armand Hammer Boulevard exit in Pottstown, where the reconstruction of a bridge to nowhere is apparently being performed by hand using only Bronze Age tools. (Why else would the project now be entering its third year?) But weaving in and out of traffic without so much as a hint of what you’re planning is dangerous. I don’t care if you ram yourself into a brick wall going 90, buddy. I just don’t want you to take me.
I suppose it’s possible people are hampered by the fact that they’re holding their cell phones and checking their Facebook accounts as they’re driving. I don’t use my phone while I’m driving, so I couldn’t really judge, but I imagine it is harder to hit the turn-signal indicator while you’re texting. Maybe these folks think it gives them an air of jaunty insouciance, a sort of devil-may-care je ne sais quoi, to keep the rest of us guessing as to what they’re planning. But I’ve fucking had it up to here with them. You’ve heard the saying “rules of the road”? One of the rules of the road is, you use your goddamn turn signal when you’re turning. That’s what the thing is for. You think Honda and GM put them on just for show?
I know Americans eat something like 70 percent of their meals in the car now. I know everybody’s wild about multi-tasking. I know you’re busy, busy, busy with Really Important Stuff, and this seems like such a little thing. But it isn’t little to me. I’d like to live long enough to collect all the Social Security I’ve been paying. I’d like to live to see Jake teach his kids how to run over the hookers in Grand Theft Auto. I have a lot of dreams.
You can make them come true if you just hit that bar beside the steering wheel. Up for going right, down for going left. It’s not that hard. And if you have to put the cell phone down to do it? I’m okay with that.
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