Effective (Inter) Vehicle Communications

June is the month to observe a great many things—tire safety, automotive service professionals, and now, effective communications. That’s right, June is Effective Communications Month, a prime opportunity to explore how drivers of different types of vehicles can best communicate with each other. Let’s start with the obvious…

Car-to-Car Communications

The majority of vehicles you encounter on the road are other passenger vehicles—cars, crossovers and pickup trucks. The ability to communicate with these other vehicles is built into yours—your turn signals and brake lights. Here’s the trick—you have to use them.

Other drivers can only adjust to your intended direction changes if they know what they are ahead of time. That means that you need to use your turn signal for an adequate space/time before your direction change to give your road-sharing neighbors time to adjust. When you are making a turn from a well-traveled road with a speed limit of 45 mph or less, adequate space/time is approximately 100 feet (about the space of two house lots in a residential neighborhood). When you are making a turn from a less-traveled where speed limits are higher, double that space/time.

Of course, to be effective, your signal lights have to work. Have a friend help you check to make sure your brake lights light when you depress the brake and that your turn signals flash on both the left and right sides. (Hint: don’t just put on your hazards and assume both turn signals work if your hazards flash. It is possible that your lights will light with hazards but not for a single direction turn signal. If that’s the case, bring your car in. It may be as simple as a fuse issue, but it could be something more complicated with the turn signal lever.)

Car-Semi Truck Communications

Next to passenger vehicles, semis are probably the most common vehicle with which you have to share road space. Effective communications with these massive movers involves turn signals, but over the years, truckers have added to the turn signal vocabulary, so you can communicate much more than a direction change with your blinkers. Here are some common messages sent via “light-speak”:

  • Hazard Ahead/Proceed with Caution: headlamp flashing three or more times to oncoming traffic
  • Traffic Ahead Coming to Abrupt Stop/Slow Down: flashing hazards while still moving (but slowing down)
  • Clear to Change Lanes: flashing headlamps to vehicle traveling in front in same direction
  • Thank you: flashing trailer lights to vehicle traveling behind in same direction.

The last message is unique to semis since passenger cars don’t have the right lights, but cars can communicate using these same signals. However, as a courtesy, when flashing—use turn your regular headlamps on/off intermittently. Flashing your high beams can be distracting or uncomfortable to those watching for your signals.

Car-Bicycle Communications

Because Albuquerque is a bike-friendly city, there are many roads passenger vehicles must share with bicycles (which have the same rights and responsibilities as cars, btw). Most bikes don’t have turn signals, so drivers need to recognize how riders signal direction changes with their arms. See Bike Sense “Cycling and Traffic Skills to learn the proper hand turn signals when on your bicycle.

Effectively communicating with other drivers and riders on the road can help reduce accidents, improve road safety and possibly even minimize road rage…and all it takes is just a couple of working lights and some patience. If you don’t have the working lights, bring your car to Quanz. We’ll trouble shoot any malfunctioning signals. (Unfortunately, we can’t do much about the patience.)