Despite old road rules, flashing lights is illegal

TRAFFIC TALK

January 20, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN NOVEMBER, I first mentioned signaling slower drivers in front to move to the right by flickering your headlights. One reader received a ticket in Delaware, in part because he had done just that. Another reader also had been pulled over in Maryland, but received only a warning against "aggressive driving." In a follow-up column, I addressed the illegality of flashing headlights at other drivers.

Ted Leffler's been thinking about that column ever since. "This notion that flashing your lights to another driver on the highway is evidence of `aggressive driving' is worth reconsideration," he said.

"When one is walking around, voice and gesture work quite well in signaling one's intentions and desires: Certainly voice can be aggressive and one can think of impolite gestures, but it's not the voice or gesture per se that's aggressive, it's the use and intent," he said in his e-mail message.

"Cars at speed need to use either lights or horns to signal one another. Back in the days of two-lane highways, we always used light signals to indicate intentions: One flashed the lights to indicate `I'm passing you now, please hold your current speed and lane.' And when one was around, the passed car gave a quick flash to say, `You're clear, you can cut back in now.' Trucks and buses use similar signals even now: often the passed truck will dim its lights briefly to say, `All clear'," he said.

"Once upon a time, people used to drive to the right and pass on the left. ... In this circumstance, flashing your lights to the driver ahead of you in the passing lane is no more impolite or unexpected than is asking the gentleman in the aisle seat at the movie or theater for passage to the seats farther down the row. And as the polite moviegoer will rise to permit you passage, the polite driver will move over to permit you to go around safely. The boor in the theater who sticks his legs out and refuses to move is similar to the driver who acts like `This is my lane, you can't make me move over.' Indeed you cannot, but who is really being aggressive here?

"Left exits from high speed roads ... confuse the issue of what should be the `fast lane,' " he said, noting Route 32 at Interstate 95, Route 100 off U.S. 29 and I-95 south onto Interstate 695 east. "If you're exiting at the next opportunity, just use your turn signals to show this. The guy behind should understand. The `fast lanes' in these instances should be the middle lanes, though in Maryland that's usually where the slowest drivers hang out."

Even so, better they should hang out in the middle lane than in the left-most.

Finally, he said, "Using light signals from car to car can be an important way of avoiding accidents by having others in the vicinity know what is happening. It is a whole other language, really, which seemingly only older drivers and truckers know about or at least use."

While I agree with Mr. Leffler, as long as police officers in Delaware and Maryland - and presumably in other states - are pulling drivers over for flashing their headlights at other drivers, my best advice remains to not signal with your headlights.

I read one recommendation that drivers in the left lane should turn on their left-turn signal to tell the slower driver in front to move to the right. I don't think that would work at all. The driver in front, if he noticed at all, probably would think, "Poor slob, he forgot to turn off his signal."

Left from center

In the Jan. 6 Traffic Talk, Neal Myers takes exception to what he called my "assertion that it is legal to make a left turn from the center lane of Stanford Boulevard onto McGaw Road. In the Maryland Driver's Handbook section covering turns, it indicates that you can only make a left turn from the left lane when turning from a four-lane road onto another four-lane road. Obviously, additional lanes can turn left if there are lane markings indicating that this is permitted."

I never said in that column (or any other) that it is legal to make a left turn from a center lane, but Mr. Myers makes a good point. Unless the center lane is explicitly marked for a left turn, drivers should be making left turns only from the left-most lane. But this is not happening at that particular intersection and is creating a dangerous situation. It is up to the county to do something about it before there is a collision.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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