Aug 19, 2006

Turning point

This is a very, very geeky-nerdy post. Those with low-tech stomachs please leave now.

This is a history of the turn indicator. Yes, you read that right. From the time men started hopping into powered (starting with the horse/ox/whatever) vehicles, they have felt the need to change direction. When communities were small, everyone knew each other, so turn indications were usually signaled thus, 'GRUNT! mrrrgh grrrunt humph!' Later, languages made the task simpler. Early English examples that survive suggest that early pre-Saxon communities would say, 'I say old chap, I should be making a right turn at that corner, so would you mind giving some space? Thanks mate!'

As human society evolved and grew in complexity, most developing communities found it very distasteful to speak to other humans before indicating a change of direction. The fact that the fastest cars were already hitting 30 kph also meant that talking was not an option. The turn indication was shortened to a simple 'Oi!' If the situation called for it (usually after the crash) there could always be a proper verbal alteraction. A tradition that lasts to his day.

Still later, human's became aware of the rest providing advantages of the division of labour and while some could afford serfs who would hang on to the car's fenders and yell changes, others simply hung flags or flapped their hands outside to indicate changes.

Much, much later, skimming past all the great names, Watt, Edison, Ford et al, the 1907 patent for the electric turn signal was finally converted to a mass market commodity in 1939. The overlap of hand signals (the middle finger was a popular indication, with a alarmingly growing following) continued of course, as did the verbal exchange.

Today, turn signals are a legal requirement on all vehicles, in most places of the planet. Yes you are right, they don't actually work in all the places. When they do, they are required to blink on and off (the new word is 'flash') between 60 and 120 bpm, in phase with each other. Except in North America, where they must be out of phase with each other.

And so forth... You must be wondering what the point of this is, right?

Well, here it is. Yesterday I noticed that in India, it is usually the vehicle ahead of you that indicates, and dictates what you need to do next. For instance, everytime a car ahead of an autorickshaw in Mumbai indicates left, the tuk-tuk instantly jinks right. If the car were to indicate right, the tuk-tuk, as if pulled by a force like gravity, would jink left. I also noticed that this happens to various vehicles irrespective of their girth, weight or attitude. And even if the driver is on the cellphone, shaving, eating, necking or just admiring his/herself in the vanity and rear view mirrors.

Any foreign readers here? Well, don't let it worry you too much, you get used to it. Think of it as our custom.

Oh, and lest I forget, the jink and the indication do not always appear in the same place-time coordinate. Murphy and your lack of preparedness could precipitate either, both or any combination thereof without warning. Consider yourself warned.


WishfulThinker said...

LOL! This one had me in splits!! :D More, more, we want more!! :)

Hafeexius said...

Nice post there.

Here in Hyderabad, there's this special beed of old school tuk tuk drivers that signal only with their right hand. If they want to turn right, they slowly wave their hand.

If they want to turn left, they sttick their right hand out and circle it to indicate they want to turn left. WTF! What about the poor sod on the left who never got a chance to see that benevolent indicating gesture, on the OTHER side where he couldnt see it?! :P

Thank god for for the powerful disc brake on my bike or my black Yezdi would have a lot of yellow paint on its right side from scraping tuktuks.

Peace out!

Nyctophobia said...

@ hafeexius
those are the hand signals i leart in driving school for cars! the rotating hand for the left turn is because u can quite reach out the left hand side window to indicate :-p
but i am surprised to hear they actually signal much less use hand signals! i don't think i've ever seen them do that in Mumbai. doing it is as good as kissing your hand goodbye!