Indicators (turn signals) on American cars

On US TV shows I’ve noticed that many American cars don’t appear to have separate orange turn signal lights – instead it looks like part of the red tail (or brake?) lights blinks on and off. Is this still the case? It seems to me it would be hard to tell the difference between a turn signal and a driver tapping the brake a couple of times.

Here’s the way you tell: if you see the light at all, it indicates braking. Proper turn signal use is so infrequent that you can essentially regard any turn signal you do see as the byproduct of someone accidentally hitting the lever while plugging in their cell phone charger or Geroge Foreman grill.


Yes, many US cars use the same lights for turn and brake signals. Some cars still use separate (amber) turn signal bulbs, but if I had guess, I would say that they’re the minority.

I prefer separate turn signals, since they are clearer in a slow-and-turn situation, where you would have two lit brake lights and another blinking turn light. When the brake lights serve dual purposes, many times there is only one filament for both brake and turn, so that in the same slow-and-turn situation, you have one lit brake light, and one blinking brake/turn light.

But since we Americans don’t use signals anyway…

A turn signal is when only the left flashes, or only the right flashes. A brake is when both sides are lit. I’ve never been confused.

You’re hardly alone in that respect. When my mother gently chided her mother about her lack of signalling, grandma’s reply was: “Well, I know perfectly well which way I’m going!” :dubious:

Um, in the US, and most everywhere else in the world, turn signals are amber, never red.

Now what about the young yahoos in the rice-burners with blue bulbs under white reflectors?

As someone who’s used to clear distinction between turn (orange) and stop (red), when I’ve driven in the US I’ve found it potentially ambiguous. Particularly when you can only see one side of the vehicle. Also, if they’re braking while signalling it’s an intermittent interruption of a signal that’s saying something else, rather than an addition of a new one.

That’s not what that link says.

"Presently, almost all countries outside North America require that all front, side and rear turn signals produce amber light. In North America the rear signals may be amber or red. " (emphasis added)

I admit I didn’t read that far. However, it has been my experience (personal anecdote, I know, big deal) that most rear turn signals in the US are amber.

I’m headed out right now, so I’ll try and count how many red signals I see.

Also, brakes light the third light at the top center, which turn signals never do.

Add to this 3rd brake lights, located somewhere in the center of the vehicle (deck lid, or roofline usually), it wouldn’t be tough to figure out. They could have one light out, but rarely would they have 2 of 3 out.

I always assume that any red light is brakes, and react accordingly. I’d rather slow down, and not have needed to (though I’d be frustrated), than rear-end the other car, and have to do paperwork, increase my insurance premiums, and have to deal with auto-body shops.

If you’re accustomed to the red combination turn/brake lights, they’re not confusing. As mentioned above, one side’s light stays on steady while the other blinks. I think it’s rather rare to see only one side of a car that you’re behind. As far as someone tapping on the brakes, that is virtually never at the same cadence as a turn signal flash.

What about the car in front of that one? Or the one in front of that? Etc.

She must be related to the English lady who said there was no need to learn a foreign language.

“English, when spoken slowly and clearly, ought to be understandable to anyone.” :wink:

When I started driving in 1973 nearly all cars on the road had red turn signals, because most cars in the US were domestically produced. As the Japanese cars made a significant impact on the market in the 80’s, and as American manufacturers started selling more of their cars abroad (i.e., Ford Escort, the “world car”), amber turn signals became much more common. I don’t know if they are actually predominant.

I have a 1999 Toyota Sienna mini-van with amber turn signals. Today’s model has red turn signals. Odd switch, I don’t know why.

At one time, some American cars had sequential signals. Now THAT was hard not to notice, when the damned things worked (some of the 60s cars that had this feature actually had mechanical systems for sequencing the lights). It appears that they were prohibited in 1970.

The addition of the center high mount brake light probably makes it less likely that you will confuse the brake lights and turn signals.

Well, okay, but so what? If the concern is whether the car is braking, what really matters is whether the car directly in front of you is braking, which should be clearly visible and sufficient warning with proper following distance. If the concern is whether the car is signalling for a turn across traffic which will leave you stuck behind it for a while, some corollary to Murphy’s law dictates that if it means inconvenience to you, then yes, that’s what’s happening. :smiley:

That’s why cars have turn signals on the side too, near the front fender.

At least most cars do. Um, except many American cars… :smack:

Maybe so, but I’ve lived in the US for 12 years now and I still have a momentary hesitation before working out whether the car is turning or braking.

What I do not understand is why the car manufacturers use red when amber must surely be clearer. Even some foreign car makers have taken to using red for the cars they sell in the US - my Toyota has red indicators. Why would Toyota decide to unnecessarily produce different versions for US versus non-US models?

If the turn signals are separate and are red, there’s not much sense in it.

There is a sense to the “old-style” American way, where the rear turn signals and brake lights use the very same bulb. For one thing, there’s one less lamp and one less lens needed per side. For another, every trailer I’ve ever seen (boat trailer, utility trailer, U-haul type rental, pop-up camper, etc.) is wired this way (with its own tail and brake/turn lamps). Installing a trailer wire connector is a snap if the vehicle is wired likewise, but requires an electronic processor if the vehicle is wired the European/Asian way, with separte turn and brake light circuits. For vehicles which are expected to haul trailers (SUV’s, pickups, etc.) the engineers may have decided to go the simple and cheap route of combination brake/turn lamps, which of course must have red lenses for the brake light function.