To Signal or not?

When do I need to use a signal/indicator?

Firstly, let’s look at why we signal.  What is the purpose of signalling?  For many, the act of signalling or indicating is forgotten once the driving test is passed.  However, many of the same people have uttered the words to others, “Thanks for the signal!!”.  Signalling or indicating is a matter of safety, courtesy (to make life easier for others) and communication.

Two questions can be asked in most situations.  Initially ask who will or may benefit from my signal?  Also ask, can my signal be confusing or misleading.  From the answers to these two questions you can decide whether to signal.  Remember, often no signal is better than a misleading signal.  So let’s have a look at various situations:

Moving Off

When moving off from the side of the road, effective observations must be taken.  As a result of these observations you can decide whether there is anyone around who may benefit from a signal.  Even a pedestrian or cyclist could benefit so if there is anyone moving around you, and it is still safe to move, then use a signal.  However, be aware of the timing of the signal if there is a vehicle approaching from behind.  If the signal is too early then the approaching vehicle may think you are moving out in front of them and this may make them slow, stop or swerve around you.  Assuming you are prepared to move the car, delay your indication until the approaching vehicle is committed to going past you.

If you are moving off into slow moving traffic and you have been sitting for a while with a steady stream of traffic moving slowly past you, then it may be worth putting the right indicator on as a request.  This would only be acceptable in very heavy, slow-moving traffic.


Stopping at the side of the road

Once again, when stopping at the side of the road, effective observations must be taken.  This will help you to decide if a signal is necessary or not; ask the question, “Who will benefit?”.  If there is no one moving around you then there is no need to signal.  However, if you believe that another road user or pedestrian may benefit, then to indicate would be the correct thing to do.  Be aware of the dangers of an early signal.  Always identify where you intend to stop before signalling.  There may be a junction between you and your ‘stop point’; this would cause confusion.  Additionally, once you indicate to stop, the vehicle behind may decide to overtake you.  If you take too long to stop after signalling, then this could cause problems for the overtaking vehicle.

Passing parked cars

As a general rule, there is no necessity to indicate to pass a parked car or similar obstruction in the road.  As a rule, your road position will show your intent to other road users.  However, there are exceptions.  Imagine you are driving down the road and there are several parked cars on your side of the road, with a stream of traffic approaching from the opposite direction.  Remember, in general you wouldn’t signal.  Approaching traffic has priority so you approach, taking up a position close to the centre lines and wait.  The traffic is an endless stream and your road position is obviously not a strong enough ‘signal’ to encourage the oncoming traffic to give you priority and let you move through.  In this situation it may be acceptable to use a right signal as a request to the oncoming traffic, asking them to concede priority.  The signal may also give reassurance to any following vehicles that you are intending to move through when there is opportunity.

Overtaking/Changing lanes

In short, you should always use a right indicator when overtaking a moving vehicle. Even if there are no other road users behind you, the driver of the vehicle you are about to overtake may benefit from your right signal prior to moving out. This is true whether you are on a single or dual carriageway.  However, it is not always necessary to indicate left to move back to the left.  If you’re on a dual carriageway, you may wish to evaluate the situation.  If there is no one ahead or behind in lane 2 then you don’t need to indicate.  However, with another vehicle following in lane 2, you would need to signal left before moving back across.

You must also consider whether your left indication could be confusing.  As an example, if there is a slip road coming up then your signal may be saying that you intend to leave by that slip road.  You may consider delaying moving back to the left until you are beyond the slip road.

Overtaking a cyclist

This depends entirely on the situation.  As you see the cyclist ahead you must assess the width of the road.  If it is wide enough to overtake the cyclist safely but this might mean that your car sits close to the centre lines, you should consider whether any oncoming vehicles would benefit from your right signal.  If the road is not wide enough to overtake safely because of oncoming traffic, then you will need to slow to the speed of the cyclist.  In this situation, a right indication may benefit the traffic behind you who may not have noticed the cyclist.  It is important that you give yourself enough time to make an assessment each time you are behind a cyclist.



In summary, when considering whether to use a signal or not, you should ask 2 questions:

a.  If I indicate, who will or might benefit from it?

b.  If I indicate, will I confuse or mislead anyone?

From the answers to the questions, you should be able to make an well judged decision on whether a signal is necessary. Additionally, in most situations, if you think that someone just MIGHT benefit and you are sure that no one would be confused, then you should use a signal.  And remember, a signal should not be too early and not too late.