When I took my driving test back in the dark ages, one of the ministry’s test requirements was knowing the hand gestures for signalling right and left turns. I remember thinking how dumb that was, sticking my arm out the window – geez I wasn’t driving a model T for heaven sakes – this was the 70’s already; every car I knew of had electric signals and I’ve been using them ever since.

Times change of course – I don’t know if they still require new drivers to know those hand signals (and I’ll admit I’ve never stuck my arm out the window to signal a turn since the day of my driver’s test) but it seems they may have also quit asking them to use the electric alternative too. Where have the signals gone?  I know the car-makers still put them in there but increasingly Toronto drivers can’t seem to find them.  That’s one problem. But another, I want to bring to your attention, is far worse – Signal Abuse.

This chronic condition, sadly, has no known cure and is spreading quicker than STD’s at a folk festival. Be alert, it may be their problem, but they are going to make it yours. The condition is characterized by a selfish urge to abuse a vehicles signals – often repeatedly. In its manic form signal abuse can swing violently from over-use to no-use at all. And finally it can manifest itself in one or even several behaviors.  Below are just some of the more common outbreaks I’ve recently observed around the city.

The Stealth Signal: that’s the single flash, offered only as a lane change is underway. By the time you see the flash (if you don’t miss it) you’ve already been cut off. Frankly the single blip is kind of an electric finger after-the-fact.

The Oops! Signal: used by the distracted. Those who fiddle, phone, chat or eat while absently-mindedly looking for an address. The Opps signaler, sighting their objective, hits the brakes comes to a full stop in a live lane and then – “Opps! Forgot to signal”. Now instead of being a timely warning of an impending turn – that flashing amber is now a testament to the self-centered nature of the clod everyone else is now stuck behind.

The Dark Signal: A.K.A. the Highway Weaver; never ever offers a signal – the thinking must be – never tip others off to his/her intended lane changes. The Highway Weaver would rip the signals out of their car if possible. The Weaver’s motto: never let them know your passing.

My Signal Commands You: Here the signal is well used, but only as a last resort; usually as a merge lane comes to an end. Having raced ahead of the through-lane traffic the Commander (now stuck driving on the shoulder) flips on their signal. This driver will duck and bob his/her head, furiously glancing from mirror to mirror – scowling – impatiently waiting for someone to let them in. If you listen hard you can almost hear them screaming – “I’m signaling dammit! – you have to let me in!”

The Early Signaler: These are the folks that are early for everything – bless them. Trouble is they signal early too – usually five or six intersections before they intend to turn. They’re the ones you have to watch for as you wait to turn left – here they come – their right-turn signal on. “I guess they’re turning right” you stupidly think as you begin to creep into your own turn – then they whiz right through the intersection inches from your bumper. Now that you’ve had the s**t scared out of you – note the look of distain on their face as they sail by. Boy! they are thinking, did that guy just pull a stupid move.

Parking Lot Commando: Use their signals? Hell they don’t even follow the lines. Once off the street they know it’s a free-for-all. In fact, if you use your signals they’ll take that as a sign of weakness and cut around you – huh! just like the annoyance you are. Be wary of several Commandos converging from all directions – duck and cover! they’ll eat your Toyota.

Words by Howard Elmer