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Dr. Gridlock
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Posted at 03:38 PM ET, 05/18/2012

Turn signals: Some electronic, some human

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You have written often about the way drivers fail to signal their intentions. I was reminded of it in several incidents I encountered in the Connecticut Avenue/Chevy Chase area.

Typically, I find that about half of all drivers fail to use their signals properly. (I have been driving since 1947.) They either turn without signaling or they apply their brakes and then signal.

I think driver’s education courses must be failing to get across the idea that the purpose of signaling is letting other drivers know in advance what you are going to do, so that they can prepare to take appropriate action to slow down, change lanes or whatever else traffic allows, to permit them to accommodate the action you are warning them you are about to take.

S. J. Deitchman, Chevy Chase

DG: All they have to do is teach to the test. The government-issued driver’s manuals, the ones drivers must study before taking the written and road tests, are saturated with instructions about the need to signal intentions.

Just a few examples from the Maryland manual:

“Other drivers and pedestrians on the road must know what you are going to do if they are to keep out of your way.”

“Signal your intention as required by law before changing lanes.”

“Signal well in advance for stops, turns and lane changes.”

“You must use a turn signal, arm or hand signal, or both, continuously for at least 100 feet before turning.”

Some drivers retain that information for decades, as Deitchman clearly has. Others appear to have dumped it as soon as they got their licenses.

Survival guide

We’ve had many exchanges about drivers failing to signal their intentions, so I’ve been looking for you to tell me your techniques for protecting yourselves from them.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You’ve asked how we anticipate what other drivers will do. For three years in the ’70s, I rode my bike between Dupont Circle and Catholic University. Since then, I’ve been driving in the D.C. area.

Body language is the key to anticipation. Look at the driver, not just the car. If the driver is moving around - head or body turning - they might be getting ready to make a move.

Check which way they are looking. See whether they are on a phone. The car may also twitch a little before any formal signal or a turn or lane change.

Special advice to walkers and bikers: Make eye contact with drivers before stepping in front of them. If they aren’t looking at you, you are invisible. By the time someone makes a full move, you may already know what is going to happen. Seconds count.

Stephen J. Verdier, Alexandria

DG: That’s great advice. It contains just the sort of practical advice that can help drivers survive. I try to do many of the things Verdier describes, although I would add one caution.

Making eye contact with drivers is a very good idea, but even better is getting an acknowledgment that they’ve seen you. Safety experts note that drivers tend to see what they’re looking for, and they tend to be looking for other drivers. They may stare right through a pedestrian or a cyclist.

Happy returns

I’ve gotten some letters recently praising Metro employees for their help in helping riders get their lost property back. Here is one:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

On March 31, I left a paper bag with my coat and thermos beside a bench at the Federal Triangle station. When I arrived at my destination, the Franconia-Springfield station, I went to the station booth and asked whom I needed to contact regarding a forgotten bag. The man on duty asked me to describe the bag’s contents and picked up the phone. He talked to the manager at the Federal Triangle station and told me, “Yes, they have it.”

Because of his professionalism, I was able to retrieve my belongings the same day. Unfortunately, I failed to get the names of the helpful Metro staff members. All I can say is that I was most impressed, and, “thank you.”

Pat Hyland, Springfield

Doors closing

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I was at the Gallery Place Metro station during rush hour. I tried to board the Red Line to Shady Grove. Just as I boarded the train, the door closed.

This left my arm, purse and a roll-aboard suitcase on the platform. When the train started to move, I had to let go of my purse and suitcase. Passengers on the train were finally able to pull my arm in. With so many people on the platform, I knew it was hopeless to think that I would get my belongings back. Still, I did go back, and there, standing on the platform, was a Metro worker, a big smile on his face, and next to him was my suitcase and purse. This man is a true hero!

A million thanks to him. Metro should clone him and give him a big raise.

Janet Archambault, the District

DG: I think Metro should clone him and make him a train operator, as a replacement for the operator who closed the doors on her. That never should have happened, and I’ve been hearing too many similar stories from riders about the doors closing early.

By  |  03:38 PM ET, 05/18/2012

Categories:  Metro, Driving | Tags:  DC transportation, Metro, WMATA

 
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