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      A Brief History of Turn Signals . . .  

In the 100-plus years of the motor vehicle, technological advancements such as seat belts, air bags, computer controlled ignition, fuel injection and anti-lock brakes have made driving safer and better.  However, the turn signal seems to have been stuck in somewhat of a time warp.  Even though turn signals are a vital automotive safety feature, the modern turn signal control has remained unimproved for more than six decades.

The first application of a flashing electric turn signal was used on the 1938 Buick as a new safety feature.  It was advertised by Buick as the “Flash-Way Directional Signal”.  By 1940, Buick added the self-canceling mechanism attached to the steering column.  This complex and sensitive mechanical method of springs, cams, sliders and lobes with fixed shut-off points is still used worldwide in virtually all vehicles. This was indeed an ingenious solution in 1940 and has worked well enough to get by for many years.  But as all drivers and vehicle manufacturers can attest, it is a system that has had nagging issues and flaws from the beginning, such as:


·        Costly Mechanism:  The self-cancel assembly is a high cost, labor intensive mechanism to assemble with many delicate and fragile parts to assemble. It also takes up a good deal of valuable space within the steering column.

·        Turn Signal Left On:  We’ve all seen it.  We’ve all done it.  A car going down the road with an erroneous, unsafe turn signal that is left on because the mechanism failed to shut it off automatically.  The driver is unaware that the turn signal is on and may drive for miles with it left on.

·        Premature Shut Off:  A turn signal that trips off before the turn is even made because of a particular wiggle of the steering wheel.  As drivers, if we recognize that it shut off, we simply re-activate it, but in reality it is a nuisance and could in fact present a dangerous situation.

·        Noise:  The relentless “tick tock” noise that is there to remind us that this is an imperfect system and is likely to need our attention.  To the driver, it is ever-present in the subconscious and is but one more potential driving distraction.  The noise is there to help, but is not likely audible if the stereo is up or the windows are down. 

·        Durability & Reliability:  The sensitive mechanism also has to be robustly designed to withstand potentially severe user’s abuse.  There are numerous, delicate, lubricated parts in this mechanism and over the long term, the assembly can become sloppy, wear out or break, depending on severity of use.  Items like flasher modules are likely to fail at some time.

These were problematic issues in 1940, and they remain issues today.  The sad truth is that the best technology we have to offer to the discriminating driving public is over 67 years old.

So, like the 1940 Buick itself, the current modern turn signal system should be a museum piece, not the mainstream.  It would be safe to say that the time for a more advanced approach is long overdue.  That advanced approach is the patented IntelliTurn system.


©2008 RLP Engineering
Dayton, Ohio, USA