31 March 2020
DRIVING ETIQUETTE: Signal and hazard lights tips they don’t teach

We’ve all been taught to use our indicators if we want to turn, and our hazard lights if there’s an emergency, but did you know there are other uses for them?

The orange lights at the corners of every road vehicle are one of the most crucial features on a car, yet are commonly under-utilised. We really shouldn’t need to say it, but please don’t forget to use your indicators when changing lanes

Apart from just helping to signal your intentions or warn other road users of hazards though, there are actually additional uses for your indicators, ones which you won’t find in any driving instructor’s syllabus:

Don’t use your hazards in heavy rain

Singaporeans and Malaysians are no strangers to the occasional intense monsoon shower, where rain is so heavy that you can’t see beyond a few car lengths. But while staying visible to other motorists is a legitimate concern, what you shouldn’t do under such circumstances is switch your hazard lights on.

While yes, it would make your car stand out amidst the spray, it can also be a hazard in itself. Hazard lights are meant to signify an emergency situation; having them flashing on a moving car makes it harder for motorists to distinguish if there is actually an obstacle on the road that needs avoiding. In addition, having your hazards on means you can’t use your turn signals as per normal.

What you should do instead is simply turn on your headlights and foglights (where applicable), slow down, and keep a further distance from the vehicle in front.

That said, if you do find yourself suddenly having to perform an emergency stop, it is entirely permissible to flash your hazards to give a bit of extra warning to the driver behind.

Remember to say thank you

Speaking of hazard lights, did you know that you can also use them as a way to say “thank you”?

We’ve all been taught to give a wave whenever someone does something nice for us on the road, be it letting us out of a side road, slowing down and leaving a gap for us to switch lanes, or even moving over from the fast lane to let us past. 

But there are times when it might be difficult for other drivers to see you inside the car, for example if you’re overtaking, or if it’s at night. That’s why in places such as America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, a lot of drivers choose to use their hazard lights instead, and it certainly wouldn’t do any harm if more Singaporeans practised it too.

Just a couple of flashes will do (you’re not having an emergency after all), and it’s a much more obvious way of getting the message across.

How to request an overtake

Although drivers are supposed to keep the right-most lane (Lane 1) of expressways and highways empty unless overtaking, given the volume of traffic on our roads, it sometimes doesn’t quite make sense to keep popping in and out of Lanes 1 and 2 to get past slower traffic. This is why many drivers feel justified in ‘camping’ out on the right if there are vehicles in the other lanes, despite being ample space to pull in. Depending on traffic flow, it’s usually inconsiderate, but not illegal.

But what if you, for whatever reason, still wanted to overtake this driver? How would you signal your intention in a polite manner?

Well, if you frequent the North-South Highway in Malaysia, one action you might observe is for the faster vehicle to signal right. Clearly there wouldn’t be space to physically overtake on the right, given that both vehicles are in the right-most lane, so in these circumstances, the signal is in fact a request for the slower car to move left so that the faster car can pass.

It’s a more subtle and polite gesture than flashing your high beams or worse, horning, as those actions could easily be misconstrued as aggressive. That said you should still exercise discretion when doing this; there’s no point trying to force an overtake when there isn’t a space in the next lane for the vehicle in front to pull into, or if there is already a line of cars ahead.