Aaron DiManna
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Turn Signal Panic is Real, and It’s the Worst

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A close-up of a turn signal
Photo: Jacek Rużyczka via CC

While it’s an extremely effective means of conveyance and can be quite cathartic under the right circumstances, driving comes with more than its fair share of anxiety triggers. Merging onto a busy highway? Cue panic. Trying to make an unprotected left turn while an unnecessarily aggressive person impatiently waits behind you in a very large truck? Time to check your blood pressure. However, I would posit that one of the most crippling road fears is, in fact, one of the most pedestrian: leaving your turn signal on when you have no intention of making a turn.

I call it turn signal panic, and it’s the absolute worst.

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What is turn signal panic?

Allow me to set the scene. Imagine that you’re on the highway, and the Chevy Malibu in front of you is going 15 mph under the speed limit. Being the law-abiding and expedient driver that you are, you flip on your left turn signal with the intention to pass in the appropriate lane. Just then, the driver of the Malibu takes an exit ramp, perhaps entrapped by the siren song of a nearby Arby’s and its promise of an inexpensive beef mistake.

Problem solved, right? You’re free to continue on your way at an appropriate speed, and you didn’t even have to deal with a judgmental look as you passed on the left. There’s just one small problem: you forgot to switch off your turn signal.

Several miles and an indeterminate amount of time later, you realize your error. The feeling that follows is turn signal panic.

Why turn signal panic is the worst

If you’re anything like me, the effects of turn signal panic come in waves. First, you’ll realize that you’ve inadvertently been gaslighting everyone else behind you into thinking that you actually intended to switch lanes. Next, you’ll find that you have absolutely no idea how long you’ve been signaling a turn and immediately wish you could turn invisible. Then, the looks you’ve been getting from other drivers will start to make sense. Finally, you’ll realize that you technically could have been pulled over and issued a ticket for being so forgetful.

Despite the fact that ticketing is unlikely in such a situation and the worst-case scenario probably involves a quick horn-honk or a frustrated glance from a passing driver, the social anxiety ramifications are substantial. Alone in your car, all you can imagine is just how big an idiot all the other people on the road must think you are.

As someone who has committed this infraction more than I’d like to admit, I, unfortunately, can’t provide any relief. I can, however, commiserate with you and let you know that you aren’t alone in your shame. If we ever meet on the road, know I’m not judging you.

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