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When will we get this blinking thing to work?

GOOD morning class, settle down please and take your seats. Thank you, that's better. Today we are going to be talking about something very few of you appear to be aware of.

GOOD morning class, settle down please and take your seats. Thank you, that's better.

Today we are going to be talking about something very few of you appear to be aware of. We've mastered turning and stopping, and some of you have even moved on to the advanced manual transmission course. Well done.

However, we're here today to talk about the cluster of stalks that sprout from the steering column of your car.

Try that one on your right. Yes, that's the wipers, very important. Lower down? Well that's cruise control, something we'll cover in next week's class, "How to not get a speeding ticket on the I-5."

Try the other stalk, the one with the two arrows on it. Hear that clicking noise? You've just activated your directional indicators, commonly called blinkers or turn signals. If the stalk is on the left, pulling down will signal your intent to go left, pushing up means you want to go right; if the stalk is on the right-hand side, the reverse is true.

Now, am I sounding pedantic and patronizing and stuffy and mildly idiotic? Isn't all of this common knowledge that even the worst of drivers should be capable of understanding? It is?

Why then, I ask you, did I just last week experience the following:

- A Honda Civic in the fast-lane with their left-turn blinker on for 25 kilometres or so, apparently indicating a desire to ram the concrete barrier at some point.

- A Range Rover approaching an intersection and indicating a right-hand turn was about to be made, when what the driver really intended was to blow through the amber light at about 147 kilometres per hour.

- A Toyota Camry creeping toward an intersection, slower and slower . . . and . . . slower . . . and, when finally at a full stop in the intersection, putting on the left-turn indicator.

- Countless cars, trucks, busses, SUVs, ambulances, you-name-it, all hopping between lanes and merging and swerving and not a single blink of indication to be seen.

So, those were the folks using their indicators in a faulty fashion. Let's talk about those who don't seem to understand what a blinker means.

If, for instance, I am approaching an empty spot for street-side parking and I put on my right-turn signal, what I am sharing with you - if you're following me - is a desire to let you know in advance that I wish to parallel-park my car.

What I don't mean is, "please drive right up to within four microns of my rear bumper and then honk when my reverse lights come on." Thank you anyway.

And, if traffic is moving along at a moderate pace and I spot someone turning left in front of me, putting on my right-turn indicator means, "Hey, it sure would be nice of you to let me merge." It doesn't mean, "Hey, time for you to jam on the accelerator!" See if you can spot the difference: "please let me in" / "please act like a complete jackass."

The modern turn signal first made an appearance in the late 1930s. Before that, we had the floppy little semaphores of the trafficators; light-up arms that flicked up out of the upper sides of the vehicle. Before that we had a guy with a big red flag walking along in front such that your horseless carriage didn't scare the peasants.

That's more than 100 years of history, a proud, strong tradition of pretty much ignoring an easy-to-use device.

Something that's conspicuously lacking on the roads is courtesy. Rather than just focussing on road safety, there ought to be lessons on good road manners. Traffic is a living, breathing thing, and its flow is considerably improved by co-operating. Communicating with your fellow drivers might actually get you to work faster than competing with them.

Communication extends beyond the humble turn signal as well. The "after you" wave at a four-way stop sign creates a natural rhythm, and boy, don't you feel slightly better after having let someone go ahead? There are limits to this: we are Canadians after all, and there is the tendency to get a bit overly enthusiastic about politeness - "No, after YOU." - to the point where you're backing up traffic for 10 blocks.

Use your signals properly. Use them often, and early enough that they actually perform their function. Let cyclists, pedestrians and motorists know what you're doing so that they can react. Listen to what other drivers are telling you with their signals and maybe even help them out from time to time.

Next month, a brief seminar on the hazard lights, or four-way-flashers, or, as I like to call it, the free parking button.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. Contact him at