Lights and Signals

Having been a driver for so many years (professional, private, for work, for pleasure, and otherwise), I often come across ambiguity, or sometimes downright confusion, with people who don’t know (don’t care?) what certain signals mean from other drivers.

Sure we all know the ‘typical’ hand gestures, often rude, rarely helpful, but did you know there’s actually a meaning behind what you’re doing with your lights?
Let’s start with defining terms:

Turn Signals:
When you activate your turn signals (or blinkers), you’re letting the drivers around you know that you intend to move or turn in that direction. Note that this signals intention, and does not give you license to move freely into otherwise occupied space. Left turn signal for a left turn or movement, right turn signal for a right turn or movement.

Hazards:
Hazard lights (Or flashers) are usually the same physical lights as your turn signals, but when you activate the Hazard lights, all four lights should flash at once (left turn, front & rear, right turn front & rear). Hazards should only be used to signal that you are a hazard to the drivers around you.

Marker Lamps:
Also known as ‘parking lamps’, these are the first stage of your two-stage headlight switch, and when activated, should show two solid orange lights up front, and two solid red lights in the rear. Note that these lights are often the same as your brake or turn signal lights, but are about half as bright. These lights are designed to ‘mark’ your vehicle, or to show other vehicles where your vehicle is.

Headlights:
Headlights (or Low-beams) are the front facing white lights, generally between 16″ and 28″ above street level (check your local legal library for specific measurements in your are), and are used to illuminate the roadway in front of you so you can see in less-than-light conditions.

High-beams:
High beams are the ‘high’ or ‘bright’ lights you use when it’s really dark outside, AND, there’s no other vehicles around you. You can read my other post for more info there. High beams are designed to give you maximum illumination when it’s very dark , and should not be used around oncoming or nearby traffic.

Fog lights:
Fog lights are a second, optional, set of lights situated low to the ground, and usually directly under the headlights. They’re often white, sometimes yellow or orange, and they’re designed to cut through heavy fog and illuminate the road in front of you.

Dip:
To ‘dip’ your lights is to flash them in an intentional manner, usually for a full second, perhaps two, and it simply means to change the state of your lights. So if your headlights are on and you want to signal to someone with your headlights, you would turn your headlights off, on again, off, and on again, in a smooth, steady sequence. This lets other drivers know that the change in light was intentional, and allows them to understand the signal you’re conveying.

Flash:
To flash your lights, typically your high beams, you want to activate and de-activate them as quickly as possible. Most vehicles these days have the headlight switch combined with the turn signal activator, so a tiny touch will usually do the trick.

Now that you know the terms and purpose of the different lights, let’s talk about what those lights are communicating:

Turn Signals:
These are used to indicate intention to turn, or change lanes, and should always be used so that other drivers can adjust if needed. Keep in mind that turn signals are merely an indication of intention, and do not give you license or right to interfere with other drivers.
If you’re in the passing lane (far left), and you’d like to pass the person in front of you, after you make sure they can move to the right, you would turn on your left turn signal; this is a polite of way saying, “Excuse me, I would like to pass”.

Marker lamps:
These are used to ‘mark’ the position of your vehicle, and should be used all the time, or anytime the sun is not shining brightly. This is especially true for dark or neutral colored vehicles in cloudy, rainy, foggy, or less-than-light conditions, so that other vehicles can clearly distinguish your vehicle from the background.
You can ‘dip’ your marker lights three times to signal a thank you, or an apology if you got too close to someone, or dip them twice to signal to someone on foot who is looking for your vehicle (this usually works best in the dark).
If you see someone dip their marker lights (which would include their headlights) five times, they’re signalling that you have an issue with your lights, and you should immediately head somewhere safe to check your lights.

Headlights:
Headlights are used to illuminate your path so you can see where you’re going. You should always drive in such a way that you can stop inside of what your headlights show you, otherwise, you’re ‘overdriving your headlights’.
If someone has just passed you, and you want to signal that they’re clear to move over, you would dip your headlights twice, but make sure they’re looking in their mirror first, or else they won’t see you. You might also reserve this for times when traffic is heavy, it’s dark, and/or there’s some precedence for the assistance.
If the driver flashers their marker lights three times, that’s their way of saying thank you.

High Beams:
The only time you should use your high beams for a signal is to alert other drivers of DANGER. Keep in mind that high beams are bright, and will often impair the vision of other drivers, so it can be seen as an aggressive tactic by police officers.
If you are a danger to other vehicles, such as when you’re sliding down an icy road towards an intersection, flashing your high beams at a high rate is a great way to get peoples attention. Couple this with your Hazard lights, and you’re conveying that you’re a dangerous hazard, and other drivers should avoid you.
DO NOT flash your high beams to let an overtaking driver know they’re clear to move over; it prevents them from seeing clearly, and conveys that there is danger, which of course if true if you’re the bad driver blinding people!
DO NOT flash your high beams at people you wish to pass, expect for emergency situations. Flashing your high beams at people is often seen as aggressive driving, and should only be used in an actual emergency.
During the daytime, you can tap your high beams twice from a distance to alert oncoming traffic that there is some danger up ahead; most notably used for alert that there is police activity, this can also be used for any danger that oncoming traffic is approaching. Do make the effort to keep it within one mile of the scene or site so you don’t get everyone riled up over nothing.

Fog Lights:
Because not all vehicles come equipped with fog lights, there’s no set meaning for them. You may have something worked out with friends and family, but expect that most people don’t associate any message with them.
The only common use I have for them is when i’m closely following someone, i’ll leave my headlights off and my fog lights on, both to avoid blinding them with my headlights, and to let them know i’m in ‘follow mode’. This is primarily a tactical use, and when I separate from them, they’ll know because I will turn my headlights on.
Another good use is in dense traffic, or urban areas; leave your headlights off, and just use your fog lights, as there’s plenty of light, and headlights often interfere with other drivers vision in dense traffic. Use this one with caution; it’s not often enforced in my experience, but it is a traffic violation.

Navigation

In any community that deals with any kind of driving, we often hear of people talking about ‘distracted driving’, and while they’re most often speaking of smart phones, there are other devices that can cause a distraction, and i’d like to talk about one of those today: GPS/Navigation devices.

While I do not fault people for using some form of digital navigation, GPS, or combination device, I do want to caution you: Most devices are not designed for larger vehicles, such as commercial trucks, motor homes, travel trailers, or other RV’s. “So, Daniel, what do we do about this?” Well faithful reader, i’m glad you asked! This is a fairly simple fix, and there’s only three key pieces of information you really need to know:

1) Overall height: The overall height of the vehicle should be measured on mostly level ground, from the top of the highest point of your rig, down to the ground. Be sure to keep in mind A/C units, satellite domes, or other devices mounted on your roof. I recommend a sticky label on your dashboard with the OverAllHeight on it so when you forget, you have an easy reference when you’re driving.

2) Length: It’s a good idea to know how long your rig from tip to tail, or front most protrusion to rear-most protrusion, as well as distance between axles. Typically you won’t need that information on the Interstate system, but if you decice to venture off onto the US or State highway systems, you’re likely to come to a crossing of some kind that dictates how much you can weigh, how long you can be, or some formula involving both of those factors.

3) Weight: GVWR, or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, is the maximum your vehicle can weigh and still operate within its specifications. This is especially important when towing a trailer, as you do not want to exceed the GVWR of the tow vehicle. Knowing the max you can weigh is helpful for places where your “licensed” weight is limited, but knowing how much your rig actually weighs (called actual weights) is just as important. You can find the GVWR on the stickers on your vehicle(s), and you can find your actual weight by loading up your rig as you normally would (be sure to top off the fresh water tank(s) if you normally travel with water!) and running across a scale at a truck stop (be sure to go inside and let them know you’re doing a non-commercial weigh, first).

Knowing your facts will help you decide if it’s safe to make that crossing, and knowing your route will help you put you at ease and get you where you want to go safely. If you do use a digital navigation device, do be sure to browse over your route for potential issues before you start driving, and keep your eyes sharp for issues along the way that your nav device can’t tell you about.

Happy trails! 😀

Knock out the Lock outs!

I read and hear stories all the time about people locking themselves out of their rigs, and I think, “Well, you need a lock out system!”.
What’s a lock out system? Well dear reader, i’m glad you asked!
A lock out system is a system you’ve put in place that allows you to gain entry into your rig without ONLY the knowledge in your head, and nothing else. It’s important to think this through, and create something that’s secure, but also simple enough for you to remember.
One example is to use a magnetic hide-a-key device with a spare compartment key in it. Inside one of your compartments, in a place that’s not easily seen unless you know where to look, you have a spare door key, and this two-step system allows you to regain access to your rig without keys, tools, a phone, or anything else; just the knowledge that you can never again be locked out of your rig! 🙂
If your rig is a MH, you should take the extra step of hiding a spare ignition key inside the rig somewhere, perhaps in a coded safe, so that you can get to it if you need to, but no one without the knowledge can get to it.

Take time to set up a lock out system today so you don’t get locked out tomorrow!

Feel free to get in touch for help in setting up your very own lock out system. 🙂

Spare Key

So most of us Wind Turbine Techs drive these big fancy pick up trucks, and they come with a key fob (The Ram trucks do anyway). Inside of that key fob, there’s a spare key that’s designed to allow you to unlock the door. May I suggest that you remove that spare key, place it in a magnetic hide-a-key box, and hide that somewhere on your truck?

Do be sure to hide it somewhere out of sight, and somewhere that if it were to fall (since we spend so much time on bumpy roads) it would be caught by another part, like in the rear bumper, or under the bed rail.

You’re welcome. 🙂

High Beams

High beams, ‘brites’, ‘long-see-in-dark’, or just brights, they’re all the same; BRIGHT. I’ve collected a wide range of driving experience over the last several years, and this is one of the big issues that continues to plague me, as well as many other drivers.

While the laws will vary slightly from place to place, here’s the general breakdown of when you should be using your high beams:

1) Anytime it’s after sunset, but before sunrise, AND there’s no approaching traffic within 500′ or so, and no traffic ahead of you (going the same direction) within 300′ or so.

2) When using them as a warning device to warn other drivers of some immediate danger.

When NOT to use your brights:

1) For any reason outside of the above two reasons, and anytime your brights will be shining brightly into someone else’s eyes!!

Yep, it really is that simple. I’ll talk about general light usage, and using your lights as a communications device in other posts, but here’s some examples of when you should or should not use your brights:

When someone is passing you (hopefully on the left!!), and you want to let them know they’re clear to move back over, DO NOT FLASH YOUR BRIGHT LIGHTS. Bright lights flashing mean, “DANGER!”. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, DON’T do it! The first issue is that it means “Danger!”, so the passing driver should cease the lane-change, recover, and evaluate the area around him/her to determine what the danger is or was.

During the day, bright lights are bright enough to shine directly into the eyes of the driver (especially for people who properly adjust their mirrors!!), and at night, they’re just down-right blinding!!

I was driving down a hill one night in a very cold and snowy area, and approaching a stop sign where my road “tees” into another road. There was traffic coming from both sides on that road, and as I began to brake my vehicle, I lost traction and started sliding. I began lightly feathering the brake, I geared down, and I flashed my high beams rapidly to warn other drivers that I was an imminent danger. I was able to regain traction and come to a complete stop just past the stop sign, but the other drivers had already begun evasive action to avoid a collision with me if I had not regained traction. This is a great way to use your high beams.

Another great way to use your high beams is to give a quick double-tap to oncoming traffic when there’s an issue ahead of them; a collision, pop-up construction, disabled vehicle, and yes, even police presence (the laws vary on this one, so do some research first). The idea is to show two quick flashes, far enough away from oncoming traffic so that it doesn’t blind them, and without flashing someone directly in front of you (that, too, will be another post).

Here’s the bottom line: Remember that your high beams are very bright, and outside of using them to see clearly at night in very dark areas with no other traffic around, they should only ever be used as a warning device.

Seeing clearly in the rain

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Do you know why the line is, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone”? Because we cannot see as well in the rain as we can outside of rain.
When it’s raining, your lights should be on (not your HIGH beams, not your hazards!) so you can be easily seen in the dreary weather.
Also, and this applies ALL THE TIME, if you cannot see the reflective part of the mirror of another vehicle, then they cannot see you, so stay out of other vehicles blind spots!

 

Extra Mile

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So you’re rollin’ down the road, itchin’ to get to the next stop, dealing with traffic, or weather, or any number of other distractions, and BOOM! there’s your exit, just up ahead, two lanes over! Oh no, we can’t make that, can we??

Don’t. Not can’t, DO NOT. I know it sucks, I know it’s lame, and I know it takes longer, but the SAFEST thing you can do when you’re about to miss your exit is KEEP GOING, and take the next one.

Sure, it’ll take longer, and yeah, you might be late, BUT, you’ll still get there in one piece, and will have done so safely. Not just your safety, either, but the safety of all the people and vehicles around you, which is something you should be aware of at all times.

Safety

Safety, safety, safety. We hear about it all the time. We talk about it every morning. Then we go into the field, and I see some folks just forget about it.

If you’re doing something that’s un-safe for you, i’m going to talk to you directly, and see if you understand, and if you care to know.

If you’re doing something that’s un-safe to other technicians, I will personally see to it you get removed from site immediately, and I will not make any exceptions to that; other technicians lives are on the line, and i’ll be damned if i’m going to stand idly by while you place others in harms way.

That being said, let me encourage you to have a mindset of safety, all day, every day, in every thing you do. Think about what you’re about to do, think about what could go wrong, and think about how you can prevent issues before they become problems. That’s what safety is all about.

Also know this: Every tower, every technician, every day: If we go up together, we come down together, and i’ll bet my life on it.