I completed a presentation about distracted driving to 1,600 students at Mayo High School in Rochester, Minnesota yesterday in commemoration of National Distracted Driving Month. I cited the fact that distracted driving causes 16% of all fatal car crashes across the country. I pointed out that cellphone use (including texting) represents a little less than 20% of all forms of distracted driving. The Department of Transportation has obviously been going after cellphone use and texting in automobiles because of the dangers which are posed to the public. Simple math tells us, then, that cellphone use and texting are responsible for approximately 3% of all fatal crashes on our roads.
I came back to my office, however, and picked up news of a study just published by the Society of Automotive Engineers which indicates that failure to use turn signals when changing lanes, or failure to turn signals off after changing lanes, happens 48% of the time. Drivers making a turn fail to signal 25% of the time. The result, the SAE report contends, is nearly 2 million roadway collisions each year, over double the number of collisions (950,000) estimated to be caused by distracted driving.
Why is the failure to use such a simple, effective safety tool so widespread? The authors offer the thought that the police put little effort into enforcing the law requiring the use of turn signals as opposed to speeding or running stop signs and red lights. I suspect it may be that the public, including law enforcement officers, can more easily visualize the consequences of speeding or running stop signs and red lights, so enforcement efforts tend to focus on those types of offenses. I remember, though, how major crime started dropping like a rock in places like New York once law enforcement stopped ignoring relatively minor crime such as graffiti and started vigorously prosecuting such cases. Widespread failure to follow the law only breeds contempt for the law and more lawbreaking, I believe.
I can immediately think of two deaths I am presently, or have been, involved with caused by semi’s changing lanes or coming off a shoulder which could have been averted by simply using the tractor-trailer’s turn signals. If I put a bit more thought to it, I think I could come up with many, many more examples from my own experience of serious bodily injury or death resulting from the simple failure to use turn signals.
The take-away, though, is that there have never been any previous studies documenting the widespread failure to abide by the turn signal laws. Nor have there been any statistics establishing the link between the failure to use turn signals and massive numbers of crashes. Maybe with this information in hand, law enforcement agencies across the country will begin to enforce the law requiring turn signals, thereby saving lives and property?