Indicators (turn signals) on American cars

I disagree completely. Reading the road ahead for as far as it is visible is part of safe driving, including awareness of what cars well ahead of you are doing.

I’ve always assumed these were to help other road users - pedestrians waiting to cross a side street which a car may or may not turn into, cyclists, etc.

I still don’t understand how you could be in a situation where
[list=a]
[li]It’s ambiguous whether the car is turning or braking[/li]
AND AT THE SAME TIME

[li]It is prudent for you to know which one it is[/li][/list]

If you can’t tell that car is turning or braking that means you only see one out of three lights, and it just came on. If that light is flashing, it’s turning, if it’s not flashing it’s braking.

Not all cars have three lights - mine does not, for example.

It takes time to determine if a light is flashing - you have to wait until it doesn’t go out to realize it is not flashing. And a blip on the brakes appears like a flash. Yes, you can work it out by comparing with the light on the other side (if you can see it), but that does not give instantaneous comprehension, unlike when you see an orange light.

When I say “it takes time”, I am not talking about seconds - probably no more than a couple of hundred milliseconds or so. But it is long enough for the question to flash through my mind as to whether I need to be braking or not.

From the OP: “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.” In fast-moving traffic on a multiple-lane highway, spotting a driver braking several cars ahead can be very useful. And having the difference in colour established as the norm gives red lights a greater sense of immediacy, especially on such a road where one would not expect to have cars braking as a matter of course. Seeing any red light come on anywhere ahead of me on a motorway triggers a very definite reaction, one of alertness and observation.

There is a car in the lane next to you and 1 car forward in heavy traffic, the rear light you can see flashes twice, did they just tap their brakes twice or are they turning into your lane?

If we are so concerned with whether the car up there may be turning into our lane, we should surely be following with enough distance to safely allow that action to happen. Correct?

Just a WAG here but perhaps red is used for turn signals as it does not ruin night vision as much as yellow would?

Um, which car? In moderately heavy traffic, there’s always a car in the next lane, slightly ahead of you, and only one side of it will be visible. If an amber light goes on, you immediately know it’s trying to move into your lane. If a red light goes on, it’ll take a second or two to figure out if it’s blinking (turn signal) or constant (braking).

Even amber turn signals are much dimmer than the headlights of oncoming traffic.

This is a rare situation but I have been behind a van with no center brake light who was rhythmically tapping his brakes and signaling at the same time, with red turn signals, on a multilane road. The turn signal on such a system disengages the brake light on that side. The combination caused the light to alternate from the left side to the right side. You couldn’t tell if he was signalling for a left lane change, a right turn, or had a short in his wiring harness. No harm was done because I gave him a wide berth. But it was confusing.

However, it is very rare.

No. There is no need to keep a set distance behind vehicles in lanes other than the one you were in. Otherwise the concept of fast and slow lanes would be screwed. On high speed roads, driving safely necessitates awareness of what is happening a long way ahead. Clear indications of lane changes and of braking assist this.

Yup, and that’s why the rest of the world are constantly dazzled while driving at night :dubious:

Sometimes in daylight the clear plastic covering over all the rear lights will look red in daylight, when not lit, but when the turn signal is used it may be amber.

What’s all this about Americans not using signals? I always do, and most people I share the roads with also seem to.

You mean there’s a concept of fast and slow lanes?!

If you drove in Calgary you’d never know.

It may have been one of those drivers you come across from time to time that drives with one foot on the brake and one on the accelerator.

Some people think the red looks better. A pretty common aftermarket ‘mod’ is replacement clear or red lenses for amber ones. I am not sure on the legality of replacement clear lenses (It probably varies state to state) but if you use colored bulbs behind them it is unlikely you will get in trouble.

While the Amber might be clearer I can’t recall being confused now that most cars have a third brakelight.

I agree. At least in Colorado. There is the occasion where someone does not use it, but it’s maybe 1 in 50.

If someone is in a clearly marked turn lane, at a red light where they only have one way to go, I give them a bit of a break, but for the most part, people here use them.

My Wife and I just got back from about 250 miles of driving in Pennsylvania and Ohio. With another 400 miles of driving in Colorado (long story, and a long week).

Maybe not using them is more common in big cities. But I do live in a resort area where a lot of visitors are lost to begin with. Because they are visitors. You get the slow turner not sure where the heck they want to go. So no signal sometimes.

I don’t really see what the problem is other than idle curiosity. If I see red or amber lights when I’m behind a car, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re braking or turning; either way, I’m slowing down. I thought everybody did this.

I had a towing hookup installed about 15 years ago. Here’s what the mechanic told me about the lights:

If the rear lights are all red, then the car was manufactured in the US. Doesn’t matter if it is Ford, Toyota, Chevy, Honda, or whatever.

If it has amber lights then it was made elsewhere, like Mexico or Japan.

Every single time the guy in front of you changes out of your lane, you slow down as much as you would if he were braking?

Note to self: never drive in Alabama

Of course. But what do you do if you see a rear light on a car in the next lane? If the car is braking, it doesn’t concern you, and you don’t need to slow down. If the car is turing, it’s turning into your lane, and you need to slow down.

a number of automakers (i know honda has done this a lot) introduce a new model with amber turnsignals for the first 2 years, and then refresh the model with amberless tallights on the 3rd and 4th year.

tons of examples, but here is a listing for a

1998 Honda Civi (amber turn singles)
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1998-HONDA-CIVIC-EX-CPE-EXHAUST-SPRINGS-FAST_W0QQitemZ230119061234QQihZ013QQcategoryZ6256QQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

1999 Honda Civic (non amber turn singles)
http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1999-Honda-Civic-SI-2DR-Coupe_W0QQitemZ150114364859QQihZ005QQcategoryZ6256QQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

I understand the Op perfectly and have a different example.

Busses, when a buss pulls to the curb for a stop they frequently use the hazard lights which activate ALL the amber signla lights on the entire bus, this means the ones down the left side…the side that traffic on the street can see…the side that makes it look EXACTLY like a damn turn signal and makes you think the bus is coming out.

and if you have ever delt with Seattles Metro drivers you know to get the hell out of the way when the bus wants your lane.

I agree that cars should have amber for turns and separate red for brakes but welcome to America, land of the standard system of measure because its just to hard to learn that whole metric thing with them funny words.
I also think large vehicles like busses and Trucks should have an extra signal to indicate hazard lights.