As it struggles to find its way through bankruptcy, Chrysler Corp. has announced its most recent cut back. The automaker is eliminating turn signals from its vehicles. In a written statement, a Chrysler spokesperson said that with turn signal usage falling below 10 percent, slicing the cost from each car (estimated at $22) would save the Fiat division over $44 million a production year (based on sales of over two million cars in 2007). “Our studies of vehicle equipment usage found that sixty-five percent of drivers were unaware that their cars actually had a turn signal device,” the press release revealed. “Of the thirty-five percent that were aware of the devices, only half even knew how to use them.” To counter safety advocates’ criticism of the equipment deletion, and bolster its case for a NHTSA waiver, Chrysler released the results of a driver survey.
33% No free hand, one on the wheel other on cell phone
28% I own the road, it’s my way on the highway
22% turn signals are so old school
12% clicking sound is so annoying
5% turned wipers on by mistake one too many times
Professor James W. Faber of the Toronto Institute for Turn Signal Safety confirmed the integrity of the survey results. He said Chrysler’s actions were not surprising; his own studies also showed little support in the United States for the usage of turn signals.
On January 7, 2008, we had our test driver cover a twenty-two-mile track and count turns and lane changes for turn signal usage in West Palm Beach, Florida. The results were as follows:
Total lane changes/turns: 107 vehicles
Turn signals utilized: 37 vehicles
Turn signals ignored: 70 vehicles
The usage rate of 35% was surprisingly high. In some northeastern cities, we see rates of usage in the low 20 percent. In fact, the only areas where usage exceeds fifty percent is in retirement communities. However, it appears that some of the data may be skewed, as half of the vehicles appeared to have their turn signals permanently flashing.
Professor Patterson stated that the results for his own country were vastly different than the states. In Canada, 103 percent of drivers used their turn signals. He attributed to the statistically impossible result by claiming that excessively polite Canadians signal even when they’re not actually driving.
Chrysler advised that it was not totally abandoning the use of turn signals in its vehicles. “We will provide each driver, upon written request, and with a small shipping and handling fee, an instruction manual showing the appropriate hand signals used for signaling turns and lane changes.” The spokesperson kindly added that for the first forty years of driving cars didn’t have flashing turn signals, and if it worked back then it should be okay today.
Chrysler is not the only manufacturing addressing the use (or lack thereof) of turn signals in America. Volvo announced a prototype ESPS system. The Swedish brand’s extra sensory perception signal system reads a driver’s mind prior to each turn or lane change and automatically activates the signals requiring no driver intervention.
Volvo says the ESPS system was currently being tested. It should be available for domestic use in 2012. They added that safety is neat and they were glad to solve this difficult problem with technology.
BMW has already addressed one of the annoying problems with conventional turn signals. On most cars, the signal stalk is a physical move up for a right signal and down for a left signal and stays in either position until either a turn is completed or, in the case of a lane change, the driver manually turns off the turn signal. This design aesthetic was not in keeping with BMW’s flame surface treatment introduced by head designer Chris Bangle.
“Our signals are fixed oceans, only cresting for an instance to signal intent, and then returning to their level nesting place adding beauty and functionality to the over aesthetic while still maintaining the overall starkness of the vehicles interior,” Bangle said. He declined to comment on whether this radical change to a sixty-year-old system would encourage less use of turn signals, instead referring readers to BMW’s legal disclaimer page on their website.
Will the turn signal go the way of the vinyl record, rotary dial phone and pet rocks? Only time will tell. But from this writer’s experience its use is doomed to be one of the future lost arts. Will my son someday sit in a bar and brag how his old man was a “turn signal user” or will he be vilified by his peers for the cranky views of his safety obsessed father? We shall see.