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Decoding Vehicle-To-Vehicle Communication

In Driver’s Education we are taught the ins and outs of vehicle-to-vehicle communication.  We learn that your turn-signals indicate the direction you plan to turn to other vehicles.  We learn that your brake lights come on when you’re slowing down, so that other drivers know to follow suit.  Beyond these simple communications, however, there can be a certain finesse to the language of driving.

Flashing Headlights

An oncoming car flashing its headlights can mean so many different things, depending on the context. Sometimes flashing headlights are used to let other drivers know of one’s presence.  At an intersection, they can be used to allow the other driver the right of way.  A thoughtful use is one driver letting another know that a speed trap is coming up.  So far, so friendly.  However, as with many vehicle-to-vehicle communications, flashing headlights can be used aggressively.

Flashing headlights is a way of vehicle communication

The flashing of headlights may be used to express frustration to a slow driver in front of you. Alternatively, they may be used to indicate that you plan to overtake the driver. This can be where the risk of an accident increases.  A misinterpretation between a car wanting you to speed up versus a car planning to go around you may become dangerous.

Other times, these communications feel downright confusing.  Did they flash their headlights because something is wrong with mine?  Or perhaps there is a car accident ahead that I need to watch out for?  Having a sense of what the possible reasons for flashing headlights may be can help drivers be more vigilant on the road.

Honking a Horn

Another vehicle-to-vehicle communication that can be kind or aggressive is the use of the horn. As we discussed back in January, a horn has many uses.

One may honk their horn to say a friendly hello or goodbye on the street.  Alternatively, it may be used as a warning that someone is encroaching upon your lane.  Another safety-measure the horn serves is to honk if one is backing up but cannot see entirely behind them.  Of course, we are all aware that more often than not a horn is used in an expression of frustration.

Interestingly, in P.E.I., section 154(1)(a) of the Highway Traffic Act actually requires drivers to honk their horn if they are planning to overtake another car.  It is reported that this is not actually a very common practice, however, and rarely enforced.

Hand Gestures

Another very common vehicle-to-vehicle communication that they do not teach you about in driver’s education are hand gestures.  Possibly this is because they are often used in expressions of aggression and can be dangerous.  The common use of the middle-finger expresses anger and frustration, and can lead to road rage.  Another common expression is a driver who throws up both of their hands in frustration with another driver.  This gesture can be dangerous, as the driver releases the wheel and may get into an accident.

Hands gestures as a way of communication

Not all of these communications may be taught to us in driver’s education, but after a few years on the road most of us know what they mean.  One of the most under-performed gestures that should be used far more often is the “thank-you” wave. A friendly wave to someone who let you into their lane or gave you the right of way can make a big difference in a person’s driving attitude.

Road Rules by Dominique McCrimmon and Cedric Hughes