Signal for goodness sake

Paul from CompetentDrivingBC often shares his insights here on DriveSmartBC.

I like his explanation of whether to signal or not and decided to share it with you. It's great advice that we should all practice all the time.

Surprisingly often, when teaching new drivers, I've been asked: Do I have to signal this?

My stock answer would be along the lines of :

  • Will it hurt?
  • Can you afford the electricity?
  • Might it help other road users figure out what you're going to do next?'

The mandatory turn lane is a classic example. The driver's logic being I have to do this, so why on earth would I tell people I'm going to do this?

The answer is simple enough:

while you, the driver may (and should) be aware of the regulatory signs and arrows facing you, that doesn't mean that the other road users — including cyclists and pedestrians  — have any idea about it.

What does the back of a square regulatory sign look like, what message can be extracted from that?

Rhetorical question, naturally.

Basically, only Octagons, Triangles, Crossbucks, and Pentagons - along with Diamond shaped Playground signs accompanied by a W3 horizontal tab - can be comprehended from behind them.

And Section 170 of the MVA is pretty clear:

if your manoeuvre may affect traffic, it must be signalled in advance.

Why doesn't the law simply require every turn to be signalled ahead of time?

My guess would be that it was written back in the day when convenient electric turn signals were not yet common.

If you imagine some farmer in the middle of nowhere, driving his '32 Ford truck and about to turn from the highway into the gravel road back to his farm — without a living soul in miles apart from the buzzard sitting on the fence post — well he's busy enough double-clutching his downshifts before the turn, and cranking that Armstrong steering.

Expecting him to stick his left hand and arm in the appropriate direction would be pretty absurd. The buzzard doesn't care.

When it comes to lane changes, we're looking at a different and much more recent time in the evolution of both automobiles and roadways. A time when, for instance, separate traffic lanes now existed. And electrically operated turn signals in cars were becoming commonplace.

So Section 151(c) MVA gives you no choice. Even if you're miles from nowhere, in the middle of the night without another road user apparent in the landscape, you still have to signal your lane changes.

There is no excuse for anyone not to do this, and no excuse for the cops to ignore it when drivers don't do so.

An excellent driving instructor by the name of Keith, a former colleague, used to give this advice to his students: that a driver should always know, from scanning the scene ahead and in his mirrors, who needed to actually see that signal, and endeavour to ensure that they had done so.

Great advice, but I think there's one exception, and that's when you're heading onto the freeway.

Often, the entrance ramp will be at a different angle, and frequently at a different elevation, to the freeway itself. So drivers on the freeway will have the opportunity to notice that blinking light way before you're able to spot them in your mirrors.

You might think that I would shut up now, but here are a couple of observations I've made about European vs. North American rules regarding the signals on cars.

Rules over there are much more stringent. You won't see any red-turn signal lenses (they will always be amber) and you won't see any brake light bulbs and turn signal bulbs being used in common, either.

Furthermore, and I think this stems from their realization that pedestrians and turning vehicles will often be in close proximity at intersections, they have required turn signal lights to be installed on the sides of the front fenders as well, for the information of those out of the line of the driver's sight.

Look at the Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc., around you and you'll see what I mean.

Good thinking, good design.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/skills/should-i-signal


Shining the light on scams

“I am thinking about upgrading the sealed beams on a vintage car to LED head lights. The LED head lights I'm considering are marked "DOT SAE" on the front. Does that mean that they are legal on roadways in B.C.?”

The gentleman who posed this question also supplied a web site URL with more information that promised DOT approval and explained that these lights were used by international Baja racing teams.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

I looked carefully at the picture of the light on the web site. Not only did it say DOT and SAE on the lens, it also had the European E marking.

The trouble is, these are usually exclusive in my experience. The lenses are either DOT/SAE approved or carry the E mark, but not both.

What was missing is the type designation that goes with the DOT/SAE marking to tell what function the light fulfilled.

At this point, I was convinced that the headlight replacement that this person wanted to buy was not a wise purchase.

Just to be sure, I drew on the expertise of Dan Stern, a vehicle lighting expert and editor in chief of Driving Vision News.

Did this headlight meet standards?

His response was no, and it's not a headlamp, it's a headlight-shaped trinket, one of a mountain of them. It's a pathetic knockoff of the legitimate head lamps made by JW Speaker.

This head lamp does not actually bear any safety certification or approval marks. It has fraudulent partial markings specifically designed to falsely assure buyers who cannot reasonably be expected to spot the difference.

More generally: it is very easy to get bogged down in these types of endless loops:
What about this one?

  • How about this one?
  • I saw this other one, is it OK? 
  • It says DOT, that makes it OK, right?"

Fact is, there are only a very few legitimate brands of LED head lamps to replace standard-size round and rectangular halogen or sealed-beam lamps.

With the widest possible inclusion (meaning these are legitimate lamps, not necessarily excellent ones) they are, in no particular order:

  • Truck-Lite
  • JW Speaker
  • Peterson
  • Maxxima
  • HiViz
  • Grote (rebranded Maxxima)
  • GE (rebranded Truck-Lite)
  • Sylvania Zevo (rebranded Peterson)
  • Philips (rebranded Truck-Lite)
  • Harley-Davidson Daymaker (rebranded JW Speaker)

On a closely related note: The "LED bulbs" now flooding the market are not a legitimate, safe, effective, or legal product.

No matter whose name is on them or what the vendor claims, these are a fraudulent scam.

A halogen lamp -- any halogen lamp -- equipped with one of these will not produce an appropriate, proper, safe, or legal distribution of light.

Same goes for "HID kits" in halogen-bulb head lamps or fog/auxiliary lamps (any kit, any lamp, any vehicle no matter whether it's a car, truck, motorcycle, etc.).

The particulars are different for LED vs. HID, but the principles and problems are the same overall.

There is a task force within the Society of Automotive Engineers Lighting Systems Group working to devise a technical specification for LED retrofit bulbs for use in halogen lamps.

There are tall technical challenges to making such a retrofit bulb that actually works acceptably, and such retrofit bulbs are still several years away.

When they become available, the situation will actually be more complicated than it is today, because then consumers will have to discern between legitimate and fraudulent LED bulbs: "some of them are OK and others aren't".

For now, the situation is comparatively simple: Halogen lamps need to use halogen bulbs or they don't (can't, won't) work effectively, safely, or legally. This is not like trying out different bulbs in the kitchen or living room or garage, where all it has to do is light up in a way you find adequate and pleasing.

Head lamps aren't just flood or spot lights. They are precision optical instruments (yes, even a cheap and minimal headlamp counts as a precision optical instrument) that have a complex, difficult job to do.

They simultaneously put light where it's needed, keep it away from where it's harmful, and control the amounts of light at numerous locations within the beam to appropriate levels (too much light in certain areas is just as dangerous as not enough).

Head lamps cannot just spray out a random blob of light, and that's what they do with anything other than the correct kind of light source.

"Legal" is a bit of a slippery target in Canada, because Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not adequately regulate the aftermarket.

There are stringent standards that apply to headlights and bulbs installed by a vehicle maker as original equipment, but those national standards aren't written so as to allow Canada Border Services Agency to stop the flow of unsafe aftermarket lighting equipment into Canada.

However, for several reasons this does *not* make an anything-goes situation.

Provinces and territories can still enact vehicle equipment requirements, and many of them require vehicles used on public roadways to have lighting equipment that complies with the applicable Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (namely: 108 and/or 108.1).

Even if one happens to live in a place where the vehicle equipment code is silent on the matter, or is laxly enforced, there can be severe liability consequences to using unsafe lights.

After a crash, if a vehicle is found to have lights that don't meet the standard, and that is even potentially a contributing factor in the crash, the owner of the vehicle stands to get absolutely *hosed* in court, and could face ruinous liability costs.

So grinning and saying "Well, it's not illegal in my province" or "Well, the cops don't care" is foolhardy.

Nevertheless, even major brands (Philips, Sylvania) have taken advantage of the outdated limitations in the national standards to market what they claim are LED retrofit bulbs for halogen head lamps.

It's unfortunate that they're allowed to profiteer this way.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/equipment/fraudulent-compliance-markings

Ignoring your own safety

When I learned to drive more than four decades ago, seat belts were becoming standard equipment on all vehicles.

Fast forward to today and we have seat belts, multiple airbags and a host of automatic systems designed to either avoid a crash or minimize the damage to us if we are in one.

Why then do some of us ignore the systems that are there for our protection?

A decade ago, seat belt use rates were about 97% for drivers of cars or light trucks in B.C. according to Transport Canada. That said, one does not have to sit for very long today watching traffic pass in urban areas to find drivers who do not buckle up.

Why ignore what is probably the simplest and most effective device in your vehicle that helps you avoid injury?

Have you read your vehicle's owners manual to learn about airbags and how they protect you in a collision?

If you have you will realize that you must wear your seatbelt to avoid injury caused by being out of place if it deploys.

You must also sit upright in your seat when the vehicle is being driven.

Yesterday, I was filling my fuel tank and watching the passenger in the vehicle beside me. She had her feet up on the dash and remained that way when her friend finished fuelling and drove away.

I shudder to think of what would happen to her if that airbag deployed.

If you buy a new vehicle today, you will find that it can be equipped with many safety systems such as automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning.

Remember that owners manual? There will be some study required to learn how they work, how you should use them and when they cannot protect you.

The sensors for these systems require regular maintenance by the driver to keep them functional. Be sure to read your owners manual or at least have the dealership demonstrate what needs to be done before you drive off the lot.

Vehicle computers store data about faults. If fault codes are stored for malfunctioning safety systems, it is conceivable that you could bear some responsibility for injuries sustained in a crash.

Ignoring these new safety systems could also place you in a bad position post collision.

Ignoring your own safety as a driver today may have many unintended consequences that can also extend to your passengers. RTFM (Refer to Factory Manual) might be the smartest (and safest) thing that you can do.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/safety-equipment/ignoring-your-own-safety


Police cars and traffic rules

In my travels last week, I was overtaken by a marked police vehicle traveling at 110 km/h in the posted 90 km/h zone.

No emergency equipment was being operated.

Instances like this are often complained about by the public as they see the police failing to follow the same traffic rules that they force everyone else to obey.

Let’s examine the rules that allow the police, fire and ambulance drivers to disobey some traffic rules and what they must do the exercise these privileges.

These privileges are granted in section 122 of the Motor Vehicle Act. It allows the driver to:

  • Exceed the speed limit
  • Not stop for red lights or stop signs
  • Disregard rules and traffic control devices governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions
  • Stop or park

This must be done with due regard for safety, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, including:

  • The nature, condition and use of the highway
  • The amount of traffic that is on, or might reasonably be expected to be on the highway
  • The nature of the use being made of the emergency vehicle at the time

The Emergency Vehicle Driving Regulation places additional conditions on the driver depending on whether or not is is a pursuit, an emergency response by a police officer or emergency response by fire or emergency medical services.

Police may respond without using emergency lights and siren to an incident where the risk of harm to the public through using emergency equipment outweighs the risk of responding without it.

In the general execution of their duties, police must have reasonable and probable ground to believe it is safe to operate without emergency equipment.

This exemption does not apply in school and playground zones.

Fire apparatus and ambulances may not disobey traffic rules unless emergency lights and siren are activated with the exception of stopping, standing or parking.

In that case, only emergency lights are required to be used.

There is another group of road users that may disregard the rules for traffic movement. They do not apply to persons, vehicles and other equipment while actually engaged in highway or public utility, construction or maintenance work on, under or over the surface of a highway while at the site of the work.

Of course, they must exercise the same care and are governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation for traffic control while doing so.

I hope that the police vehicle that passed me was really involved in a situation that required both speed and stealth.

Story URL: https://www.drivesmartbc.ca/police/emergency-vehicles-and-traffic-rules

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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