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Turn signals: in Rome more theoretical than anything else PDF Print E-mail
Dec 15, 2013 at 07:43 PM

Image When my father taught me to drive in the suburbs of New York, he assured me that little by little, all the new things I was learning would become automatic like using my signals for turns, never ever passing on the right, and keeping a safe distance – three car lengths – between my car and the one in front of me. He was right and even today the turn signal is so automatic for me that I find myself using it even when I am inside a garage or a parking lot. Clearly, I have developed some synapse in my brain so that the moment I think about making a turn, my arm goes into motion. I am, of course, not the only person in the world to have developed this reflex, but in Rome I may well be alone…or almost.

In this city, the overwhelming majority of drivers clearly have not developed this gift of automatic response and act as if the turn signal (la freccia, in Italian) simply doesn’t exist. And that tiny number that do remember that the signal lever is a part of the car they bought, generally use it improperly that is, only after they are well into a turn, which totally defeats its purpose of letting the car behind know what you have in mind.

At a T-junction, one where a driver should let others know whether he will be turning right or left, no one in Rome – and I mean no one – ever bothers. And this despite the fact that the Highway Code, (specifically, art. 154, para. 2) labels it a violation that merits a fine and a loss of two points from one’s license, even though I suspect this rarely happens except in the case of a road accident.

 In the United States rules of this sort are observed with far greater attention; last winter I went to visit a friend in upstate New York and was amazed to see her stop at a stop sign on a country intersection, on a road on which ours was, as far as one could see, the only vehicle.

But the most mysterious aspect to me is why it should be that there is such a widespread disregard in the Eternal City for an instrument that is important not only for courtesy to fellow drivers but for greater safety? At city driving schools I am assured that instructors do teach Romans learning to drive to use their turn signals and do explain their importance. If that were not the case, the mystery would be solved. If they do in fact, teach student drivers the correct use of “la freccia” and other good driving practices, then the mystery deepens. How to explain that an entire city population chooses spontaneously to ignore the basic tenets of good and safe driving?

The only explanation is that there are other cultural factors at work here (mors tua vita mea?) which, I’m afraid to say, are hardly admirable.



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