Turn Signals: They’re not just a good idea, they’re the law.

Recently, as I perused Twitter, I saw a list of tips for safe driving in foggy weather. The list included things like “use your low beams, not high beams”, “be on the look-out for pedestrians or bicycles”, “drive slower than the speed limit” and “use turn signals when turning”.

Now, I realize I’m from Kentucky and our laws may be a little different than Ohio’s, but I thought you were always supposed to use your turn signal when changing lanes or making a turn. So I decided to look it up.

ORC 4511.39 addresses Turn and Stop Signals. The current law will be in effect until the end of this month, so we’ll look at the text of the new law, which goes into effect October 29 and has been updated to include the phrase “electric bicycles”.

(A) No person shall turn a vehicle or trackless trolley or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided. (Emphasis added)

When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning, except that in the case of a person operating a bicycle, the signal shall be made not less than one time but is not required to be continuous. A bicycle operator is not required to make a signal if the bicycle is in a designated turn lane, and a signal shall not be given when the operator's hands are needed for the safe operation of the bicycle.

No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle or trackless trolley without first giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided herein to the driver of any vehicle or trackless trolley immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give a signal.

Any stop or turn signal required by this section shall be given either by means of the hand and arm, or by signal lights that clearly indicate to both approaching and following traffic intention to turn or move right or left, except that any motor vehicle in use on a highway shall be equipped with, and the required signal shall be given by, signal lights when the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the left outside limit of the body, cab, or load of such motor vehicle exceeds twenty-four inches, or when the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the rear limit of the body or load thereof exceeds fourteen feet, whether a single vehicle or a combination of vehicles.

The signal lights required by this section shall not be flashed on one side only on a disabled vehicle or trackless trolley, flashed as a courtesy or “do pass” signal to operators of other vehicles or trackless trolleys approaching from the rear, nor be flashed on one side only of a parked vehicle or trackless trolley except as may be necessary for compliance with this section.

(B) Except as otherwise provided in this division, whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to one predicate motor vehicle or traffic offense, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If, within one year of the offense, the offender previously has been convicted of two or more predicate motor vehicle or traffic offenses, whoever violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree.

If the offender commits the offense while distracted and the distracting activity is a contributing factor to the commission of the offense, the offender is subject to the additional fine established under section 4511.991 of the Revised Code.

 

Because I’m a librarian and legislative history is both fascinating and amusing to me, I looked up older versions of the law to compare. There are a couple of interesting points here that have changed over the years, many due to the increasing variety of vehicles allowed on the road concurrently and the expansion of the roadway.

For instance, in 1973, this section read:

“No person shall turn a vehicle or trackless trolley from a direct course upon a highway until such a person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety to other users of the highway, and then only after giving a clearly audible signal by sounding the horn if any pedestrian may be affected by such movement, or after giving an appropriate signal in the event any traffic may be affected by such movement”

There was no mention in this section of indicating via signal before changing lanes on a highway, possibly because there were fewer roads with multiple lanes at the time.

(I have the imagine that the provision about “sounding the horn” when making a turn made busy city streets an absolute nightmare from a sound perspective. Oy vey.)

The section on stopping and brake lights was also different. It read:

“No person shall stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle or trackless trolley without first giving an appropriate signal to the traffic immediately to the rear”

Currently, this sentence continues “when there is opportunity to give a signal”, which might refer to bicyclists, as the sentence before it reads “A bicycle operator is not required to make a signal if the bicycle is in a designated turn lane, and a signal shall not be given when the operator's hands are needed for the safe operation of the bicycle.”

Interesting changes in law aside, back to our original question. Are you required to signal lane changes and turns in the state of Ohio? Yes. Whether foggy or not, drivers are required to signal before making a turn or changing lanes. However, as with anything safety related, you can never repeat a good safety tip too often, even if the tip is actually the law and a person who disregards that tip may be “guilty of a minor misdemeanor.”