Monday, April 04, 2005 | Soon after receiving my learner’s permit as a teenager, my mother, being – as all mothers are, of course – the paragon of civility, would severely upbraid me from the passenger’s seat during practice drives for failing to signal before making a turn or changing lanes. “Other drivers can’t read your mind!” was her shrill mantra, and the lesson was well learned inside that rusted ’83 Corolla.

Upon moving to San Diego four years ago, however, I began to immediately notice that a good many San Diegans seemed determined to prove to my mother that telepathy amongst drivers does indeed exist on the county highways and side streets. Aghast, I witnessed Honda Civics attempt to nudge their way through a merging lane with no visible indication of their intentions, and monstrous Navigators dart from one end of the 805 to the other with nary a hand wave or fleeting nod. Curious, I asked a native San Diegan to explain this provincial phenomenon: were turn signals rendered useless by a bizarre mechanical failure afflicting only automobiles under the Southern California sun? His reply was far less insidious: “When you have a cell phone in one hand, and a latte in the other, you just can’t be expected to signal.”

A most reasonable explanation, no doubt, but perhaps all this roadway incivility is indicative of a larger problem that has evaded the sociologists and political scientists when considering the declining status of San Diego. In a city and region in which individualism and a mellow lifestyle is placed at a premium, driving etiquette is understandably low on the chain of concerns; to whit, I have often witnessed even police cars also fail to signal their turns.

There is a different sort of malaise at work here, perhaps a collective disinclination to deal with the small things that matter – for example, the simple wrist-flick required to signal a turn and potentially avert a later need for the Jaws of Life – for fear that the required thought would momentarily detract from some private enjoyment. Indeed, few would fail to admit that this act does not require a huge amount of effort, yet, for whatever reasons of geography or psychology, relatively few San Diegans seem capable of consistently committing to this practice.

Let us now take things a step further and apply this undefined malady to the Donna Frye fiasco. To secure an uncontested victory, all her supporters needed to do was properly fill out the ballot, and our next mayor would have been the former environmental activist and surf shop owner. But they just couldn’t quite carry through, and this applies not to a hapless few, but thousands of voters. Keep following this chain, and you’re soon pondering the hypnotically numbing illogic that has led to middle-class San Diegans willfully accepting the grim prospect of either having to plunk down half a million dollars for a postage-stamp sized abode or a three-hour daily commute from Riverside County.

Therefore, I respectively hypothesize that turn signal neglect is actually the crux of our larger problems, and propose that San Diegans immediately begin an aggressive campaign to “get to know your lever.” I envision banners unfurling, billboards effusing the patriotic merits of a well-executed signal, propositions drafted, and the full support of our charismatic governor. Perhaps even the Highway Safety Foundation, responsible for those grisly driver’s education training films in the 1960s, could be resurrected to simply terrify San Diegans into action. I predict that in short time we will begin to see Humvee drivers install mammoth, barbershop-pole sized signals on their bumpers to herald an impending move; teenagers holding contests to see who has the coolest thermal flasher; and senior citizens forming civic groups to promote turn-signaling to San Diegans of all colors and creeds.

Then, who knows? Once we sort out our turn signal problem, endemic political corruption and crippling governmental mismanagement will also fall by the wayside in San Diego County. America’s finest city, as well as my mother, deserves no less.

Sam Sokolove is a freelance writer living in San Diego.

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