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Make your intentions clear
Generally, it’s unnecessary to signal when passing parked cars. Excessive signalling in this situation can confuse other drivers as they may think you’re turning right. However, there are situations where a signal will be of benefit and eliminate confusion. For example, if you’re on a narrow road and have to stop to give way, your road position could look like a parked car. A signal to the right on this occasion will inform the driver behind that your intention is to continue and pass any parked cars once your way is clear. It’s not always parked cars of course. Any object on your side of the road that requires you to give way to oncoming vehicles may require a signal, especially if there’s a vehicle behind you which you think may not be able to see the hazard. This could be small road-works or debris, for example, and a signal will make your intentions clear.
Signalling or indicating when driving is an essential safety and courtesy task, thinking that it’s not important or just forgetting leads to many an incident. For this reason, you should always signal when pulling away, even if it’s only a pedestrian who benefits from seeing your signal. If there’s no one around, then a signal is not necessary, but use caution. If you are ready to move off and notice a vehicle approaching from the rear to pass you, do not indicate off if you intend to wait for them to pass. The effect of this can cause the approaching vehicle to slow down or stop to let you pull away or swerve around you. Wait till the vehicle has passed and if all is clear, signal if necessary.
As a driver, you should use signals to inform, not instruct. Giving the correct signals at the right time and in the right way is an essential part of good driving, and your only way of communicating with other road users. You should never use signals to give orders to other drivers; a signal never gives you the right to make a move, such as a lane-change on a motorway, on the assumption that other drivers will give way. The art of proper signalling requires practice as well as learning. The ground rules are simple: use only those signals described in the Highway Code. Do not make up your own signals or copy those adopted by other drivers. Even if a personal signalling device seems perfectly clear to you, it could be misleading to others who may not understand what you are trying to ‘say’.
You need to know and follow the drill at roundabouts. Signal right if your exit is past 12 o’clock, thereby sending a clear message to other road users about your intentions. However, too many drivers forget the next part of the sequence: signalling left when they want to turn off. You should do this midway through the junction before the one you’re taking. This will ensure everyone knows where you’re headed and will clear a path accordingly. If you are taking the first left at a roundabout, then signal left as you approach the roundabout. If you are going straight across a roundabout, do not signal as you approach, simply drive in the indicated lane and signal left as you pass the exit before the one you want to take.
Smart motorway signals
Smart motorways have been operating for over a year now. Previously called ‘managed motorways’ they’re usually all-lane running (using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane) with overhead gantry signs and emergency refuge areas. If you find yourself on a Smart motorway, the Institute of Advanced Motorists offers useful tips on the different signals:
- A red cross without flashing beacons: The hard shoulder is only for use in an emergency or breakdown
- A speed limit inside a red circle: It is absolutely mandatory and may have cameras enforcing it
- A blank signal: Usual motorway rules apply
- A white arrow with flashing beacons: This applies to all lanes and means you should move into the lane which the arrow points to
- A red cross with flashing beacons: You should not continue to use the lane
- A national speed limit sign is shown: The national speed limit, 70 mph maximum, applies to all lanes apart from the hard shoulder
Pay attention to the overhead gantries as they provide information on traffic conditions and lane access. The signals are:
- Controlled motorway – these have three or more lanes with variable speed limits. Hard shoulder use is for emergency use only
- Hard shoulder running – the hard shoulder will be opened at busy times and the speed limit reduced. Don’t use the hard shoulder unless overhead signs show you can do so
- All-lane running – there is no hard shoulder on these sections of the motorway. Obey the variable speed limits and do not stop on the motorway. In an emergency, use an emergency refuge area, motorway service area or exit at the next junction
When to indicate
If you are planning to leave a motorway or dual carriageway look out for the display markers in the form of three dashes (300 yards) two dashes (200 yards and one dash (100 yards) from the exit junction. Remember, you must indicate at the 300-yard marker.
Alternatively, if you are planning to merge into a motorway or dual carriageway, you should indicate to the right approximately half way down the slip road as you build up speed and once merged with traffic on the carriageway, cancel your signal.
Turning: When to signal
When driving in residential areas you should signal around 30 meters (100 feet) in advance of making a right or left turn. This assumes there are no other turns on the same side of the road before the turn you intend to take, otherwise you’ll need to signal after that turn to avoid confusing other road users. For faster roads, this distance increases. On a dual carriageway at 70 mph, for example, signalling should start from around 275 meters (900 feet) from your exit.