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How Many NYC Drivers Fail to Signal?

If you walk on New York City streets (or frankly anywhere in the U.S.), you're well aware of how much unlawful and dangerous driving happens on nearly every block: red light running, speeding, double-parking, you name it.

I first moved to NYC in 1991, and one thing that seems to have gotten much worse since then is the percentage of drivers who fail to signal their turns. I've lost count of the times I've been walking or bicycling and nearly been hit by drivers who didn't use their directionals. Anecdotally, I would estimate that about 25 or 30 percent of drivers don't signal.

So I set out to put my theory to the test where I live in Jackson Heights, Queens, taping the first 100 turning drivers I saw. I won't spoil the final count, but this video is more evidence of the poor quality of driving across the city. Failing to use blinkers makes it hard for walkers, bikers, and other motorists to anticipate a driver's behavior -- this is basic Driver's Ed, people -- but so many people just don't do it.

Every week we read horrible stories of drivers crashing into pedestrians or mounting sidewalks -- and yet hardly anyone is ever charged or even issued a ticket. NYPD could be issuing plenty of tickets for drivers failing to signal turns on just about any block at anytime. They could start a crackdown tomorrow, it doesn't require more legislation. It doesn't require an officer to be stationed in a car with a radar gun. Just stand on the corner and pull people over. Simple.

NYPD credits cracking down on small crimes with helping to dramatically lower the city's overall crime rate. If we started to show less tolerance for "smaller" infractions, might drivers in NYC eventually change their overall driving habits?

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  • Prinzrob

    I wouldn't be surprised if there was a much higher percentage of drivers who do signal, but only AFTER they start turning, which I see all the time, as opposed to signaling while one APPROACHES the turn. When it comes to bicyclist/driver interactions, especially, it doesn't really help much for someone to turn on their blinker after they have already started the movement. Next time try also filming at the approach of the intersection to see not just who signals, but who does so legally (100 feet from the turn).

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Actually this count is drivers that signal at any time during or prior to the turn. If we are saying 100 feet from the turn is legal, easily 50% of the drivers that did signal did not do that. Many signaled just before or in the process of. Thus this film is biased towards drivers, in fact there were 2 or 3 turns I ended up discarding because of shooting angle that I was pretty sure they did not signal I couldn't back it up looking in slow-mo at what I filmed. I'd say the number here is the best possible case for the drivers.

  • JamesR

    The bottom line is that there are a huge chunk of drivers in this city (by 'in this city', that includes drivers from Jersey, Westchester, CT, and Long Island too) who don't belong on the roads. They're not capable of the competent operation of a multi-ton motor vehicle and if we had a well-designed licensing regime in place, they'd never have obtained licenses to begin with. The sad reality, though, is that there is zero political will to make licensing standards more stringent than they are currently and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

  • qrt145

    One difference between failing to signal and turnstile jumping and other "quality of life" offenses is that only one of them risks killing people.

    I think drivers are also supposed to signal when changing lanes, and my impression is that the fraction of drivers who fail to signal lane changes is even larger than the fraction who fail to signal turns.

  • Mark Walker

    What drives me crazy as a pedestrian is the driver who signals for a turn, then changes his mind. I think it's safe to cross and then he plows right into my path.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    @qrt145:disqus Drivers are suppose to signal *all* their intentions, where lane change, turns or parking.

    Clarence is completely right about this, these are laws that should be enforced more often. This and failure to yield, not just to peds or bikes, but to other cars. As a driver, these are most common things that piss me off. That and the good old "speed up when I signal to change lanes." It's the selfish nature of drivers, always wanting to go fast and to go first. People forget that driving is a privilege granted by the State, not the freedom to do whatever you want. And I've noticed, especially in my neighborhood, the more high-end the car the cockier the driver, and the more they break common laws. Drivers should not drive with their emotions or their personality, they should just obey the law and drive safely. It's because of these ignorant drivers that make cycling, or even crossing the street, more dangerous.

  • Joe R.

    I'm so used to drivers not signaling that I've learned to anticipate when people are turning. Usually when I hear the engine speed slow down, often with a very slight drift to the right, I figure the car is turning next intersection. I just back off a bit so I'm not on their right when that happens. 9 times out of 10 they do indeed turn as I anticipated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steven.faust.988 Steven Faust

    Failure to signal and failure to yield are traffic's Broken Windows, particularly as they result in a string of Near Misses before they end in a crash.

  • Guest

    Indeed. They are a quality of life issue in addition to the safety threat.

  • Guest

    Speeding up when signaling to change lanes is actually a defense mechanism against other bad drivers, unfortunately. There are so many rude, aggressive drivers who will try to close the gap and prevent you from making your lane change, that it often makes sense to make sure you can accelerate into the gap as a defensive move against getting rear-ended.

    Sad. But true.

  • Joe R.

    I couldn't have said it better myself. "Universal" licensing was a terrible idea which never should have existed in the first place. And I'd say based on observations that upwards of 75% of adults lack the ability to safely operate motor vehicles.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I just want to reiterate here: this "count" is one that I gave drivers the most benefit of the doubt. I gave them "credit" if they signaled at any time. As many have said the vehicle code says you need to signal within 100 feet of the turn. If I were to apply that, I can tell you over 50% of the cars would have failed by that letter of the law. That should be appalling. Meanwhile, the NYPD is out writing tickets for bicyclists riding after 1 am on a greenway.

    I'd love to see others duplicate this here in NYC and other cities. Just to show the nation how chronic this problem is (believe me I once talked to a cop about why they don't write more tickets for failure to signal and they said they didn't see any problems with it. Ever since that day, I have wanted to find time to do this "count".)

    Anecdotally, when I am walking I notice many of the people that do not signal are on the phone or have their phone in their hand looking down at it while driving. So if the NYPD started flooding the streets and writing some tickets for basic offenses such as these, at least - maybe - we might get drivers to adjust their behavior a little. It's worth a shot.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Nice job Clarence. This is a pet peeve of mine that you did a much better job documenting on video then I could have ever done.

    I've been behind people while driving and watched them commit enough moving violations in less than a minute for them to loose their divers license!!! I even saw one driver commit 9 points worth of moving violations in less than 10 seconds!!

    Why are people like this still driving?!?!

  • dporpentine

    Actually, I'm amazed the number of people signaling is that high (recognizing the generous definition, etc.). Based on my experience on a bike, I would've guessed the percentages would be reversed. I wonder whether having a camera in sight made people behave better.

  • AdamAnon

    Only 24%? I would expect a lot worse. It almost seems to me most people do not signal.

  • AdamAnon

    The reason we have so many incompetent drivers out there is because our politicians prioritize corporate profits over citizens safety. Strict licensing restrictions would lead to much lower vehicle and insurance sales and would hurt the industry and, in turn, would affect the "campaign contributions". So if some poor schmuck gets killed from time too time, it's a small price to pay for keeping our corporations thriving.

  • http://twitter.com/walkeaglerock Walk Eagle Rock

    Any idea if some people only signaled because they noticed they were being watched? There are plenty of times where I'll simply observe traffic and when drivers see me they suddenly decide to signal their turn, or to not make an illegal right turn. If I pull out my camera when observing traffic drivers tend to behave better, even though I'm not police officer or anything– just a dude with a camera (half the time I'm not even recording, just have it out to see how it influences behavior)

  • Streetsman

    Thank you for covering this issue Clarence. I would love for you guys to take this further - perhaps some kind of ride along survey of how many drivers would pass their road test if they were being scored as they typically drive a few blocks in the city. I bet the pass rate would be 0.0%. Simple things like coming to a complete stop behind the stop bar at a stop sign, signaling turns, yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk, using mirrors, keeping safe driving distances - these are all routinely ignored by most drivers on the road. I bet the vast majority of licensed drivers would fail the written test as well - before their "That's Why It's 30" ad campaign, NYCDOT learned that most New Yorkers don't even know what the speed limit is. And I believe this is evidence that the State DMV is COMPLETELY shirking their responsibility to ensure that drivers whom they license are educated and competent to operate a vehicle because they basically only test them once as teenagers and never again. What does it say about the DMV's effectiveness if the standards to which individuals are held to obtain their license are nearly universally ignored or forgotten? I think a small study showing that 0.0% of drivers operate their vehicles in a manner that conforms to licensing standards should be a big wake up call that perhaps the reason that roughly 175,000 people are injured in 300,000 crashes annually in New York State is closely related to the fact that people whom the state licenses don't know how to drive or don't care since they won't be evaluated on it again. DMV basically rubber stamps renewals and leaves it to local police to figure out who knows and observes the rules and who doesn't. The police barely have time to catch people speeding and running red lights, let alone the minor stuff like signaling which, in fact, are major determinants in the majority of crashes. There is not even a threshold of ticketed infractions that necessitates a re-examination of qualifications. Basically just pass the test when you're 18, and crash or get minor tickets as often as you like and you will always keep your license because you won't ever be asked to prove your competence again. The city's Health Department goes out and inspects all 24,000 restaurants AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR to make sure they are preparing food in ways that conform to sanitary standards - and gives them publicly-displayed letter grades - precisely because of the potential threat to public safety that non-conformance represents. Yet while roughly 20,000 people go to the hospital for food poisoning every year in New York City, as many as 70,000 will go for traffic injuries. When will we ever have a State DMV that really sees annual traffic injuries as the bottom line of their responsibilities and takes meaningful action at their most important point of influence - issuing and renewing licenses?

  • http://donwiss.com Don Wiss

    Failure to signal is points on the license. Giving points implies that the lawmakers consider this a serious infraction.

    On a recent short ride I first had a small school bus turn right in front of me without signaling. Then a few blocks later a Maimonides ambulance, that was not is any rush, made a right turn without signaling. And I thought that these vehicles were being driven by trained drivers.

    The one time I counted was many years ago in Manhattan. I found 30% were not signaling. This is an easy one to catch. A cop simply has to wait just past an intersection. And so many violators would pass by that most would not get caught. The officer would be constantly busy writing tickets.

    Drivers have nothing to gain by not signalling. The ones speeding or running red lights could argue they were in a rush. But the lack of signalling is simply a bad habit that has developed. It could be a sign of inattention. It won't be broken until they start getting points.

    I remember one time when I was bicycling in the outer reaches of Brooklyn. When I pull up at a light I am very careful to not pull to the right of a car turning right. I pulled alongside a car at the light. It was not signalling. It almost turned into me. The driver was yelling at me.

  • carma

    as a driver, i too get pissed off for people not using their turn signals. it seems petty, but knowing what other drivers do, helps significantly in terms of safety and anticipation.

  • chekpeds

    This is a terrific piece. With the recent statistics that 44 % of injured pedestrians were in th ped crossing, with the walk sign, we know that turning and failure to yield are a major problem in NYC .
    Split phases signals would resolve all of this, without needing cops at every intersection. Which we will never get.

  • http://profiles.google.com/drivin165 Patrick Smith

    I had the privilege of visiting 4 different countries in Eastern Europe back in 2005 as part of church missions, over the course of a 2 week period. One thing I noticed right off the bat, and for the duration of the trip, is that EVERYONE signals, pretty much 100% of the time. Always, almost without fail. Changing lanes, making turns, backing into a parallel spot, pulling our of a parallel spot. Any kind of change of direction or lane, and those European drivers had those blinkers on. I was absolutely amazed. But then again I also know how stringent the licensing process can be, at least from what I read about in Germany. Still, I wish that kind of behavior would rub off over here.

  • mfp2waoe

    I'm surprised too. In Florida at least 60% don't signal People are lazy morons.

  • Kevin L Bazur

    Personally I'd like to see the NYPD start to use THEIR turn signals. They hardly ever do. It's the law at least for the rest of us and it's a courtesy and should be used by of all people the police. The other day I saw a van here in midtown fail to use the turn signal a number of times. When I got closer to the Van (on 9th ave and 44th) I realized it was a van full of "undercover" cops! I kid you not. They went into the west way diner and left said van running the whole time. Disgusting.

  • KL

    25-30%? The rate is MUCH higher than that. In fact, the fact that NYC drivers do not signal before making lane changes and turns have become the norm. Not to mention speeding like maniacs given that the highways in NYC are crowded and not that wide.