Generally, a driver who fails to properly signal is liable for causing an accident. The most common kind of accident caused by the failure to signal occurs when a driver does not signal a maneuver and is hit by another vehicle from behind.

Failure to signal when required is negligence. In 2012 the Society of Automotive Engineers did a study of turn signal use and discovered that failure to use turn signals when needed caused more accidents than distracted driving due to cell phone use.

Is There A Duty To Signal?

A driver has a legal duty to signal turns and lane changes in a manner visible to other drivers on the road. This is why motor vehicles are equipped with turn signals. In fact, the law requires motor vehicles, including trucks, to be equipped with turn signals. And the law requires that drivers use them when turning left or right or when changing lanes.

In most states, the law specifies the distance from a turn or lane change at which a signal must be given. For example, in Florida a person must signal a turn or a lane change at least 100 feet before making the turn or changing lanes. So even if a driver signals, if it is done less than 100 feet before the move is made and an accident results, the driver can be liable for negligence.

Signals must be timed so as to give other drivers the chance to process the information they communicate and adapt to the situation. Failure to give a timely signal results in the same liability as if no signal were given. For example, a driver might signal only as they are moving their car in front of another car in another lane. If the other car strikes the car moving in front of it, the driver who signaled too late would be liable for causing the accident.

Federal law has detailed regulations about turn signals, lighting and reflectors on commercial vehicles subject to federal regulation by the Department of Transportation (DOT). So if a person drives a tractor-trailer or other vehicle regulated by the US DOT, they should learn about the requirements for signaling equipment.

There is case law confirming that courts will hold a driver liable if their failure to signal causes an accident. In one case, a driver was found liable for failing to give a timely signal when he signaled just as he was entering an intersection. Another vehicle traveling behind struck the driver who failed to give a timely signal. The court found that the turn signal given by the driver of the car in front of the other came too late to give the driver of the following car enough warning to prevent an accident.

Not signaling soon enough before a maneuver is one kind of signal violation. Not signaling continuously during a maneuver is another failure that can lead to liability.

A case in Washington state went all the way to the state’s supreme court. A driver was stopped and ticketed by police because he did not signal his left turn continuously while completing the turn. The driver in the case flashed his turn signal when he entered the turn lane, but then failed to keep the signal operating as he made the left turn from the lane through the intersection.

The law required that a turn signal be used “when required.” The court found that the driver was properly ticketed for failure to signal continuously throughout the turning maneuver.

Of course the law varies from state to state. In some states, a driver is not required to signal a turn if their car is in a lane from which the turn is not optional, i.e. in a turn lane. Also, in some states, signaling is not required if there is no other driver on the road who needs to be alerted to a maneuver.

Because the law in most states requires signaling in certain situations, a violation of the law can be evidence of negligence per se. Negligence per se is a legal term for an act which is inherently negligent because it violates a specific law.

The only defense to a claim of negligence per se is to show that the non-signaling driver’s failure to signal did not actually cause the accident.

It is important to keep in mind that failure to signal when required can lead to a ticket for a moving violation. Of course, if a non-signaling driver gets a ticket for the failure to signal, the citation can be the basis for a negligence claim if it causes an accident.

In addition, a traffic citation for failure to signal might add points for a moving violation to a driver’s record and this might lead to a license suspension. Lastly, a driver cited for failure to signal when required may see their automobile insurance premiums go up, especially if the citation is not the first one the driver has received within the past few years. The law varies from state to state, but in every state, there can be unpleasant consequences to getting ticketed for a failure to signal.

What Damages Are Available in Such Cases?

As in all auto accident negligence cases, if a non-signaling driver causes an accident, they will be responsible for paying the other driver compensatory damages and possibly punitive damages. Compensatory damages cover items as proven, such as:

  • Repair or replacement of a damaged car, including the cost of renting a replacement car while repair work is done;
  • The costs of medical care for anyone who is injured in the accident, including the cost of doctors, medications, hospital stays or therapy;
  • The lost wages of any person who cannot work because of injuries from the accident;
  • Compensation for the pain and suffering of anyone who is injured.

However, punitive damages (also called “exemplary damages”) might be awarded if the negligent driver engaged in:

  • Gross violations of traffic laws and road rules;
  • Driving while intoxicated (DUI or DWI);
  • Incompetence (especially if the driver is unlicensed); and
  • Driving with the knowledge that the car is in poor condition.

Punitive damages are damages in addition to compensatory damages. They are charged to punish a negligent driver for gross misconduct. Because they are additional to compensatory damages, if a non-liable driver’s car was not damaged or the driver was not injured, punitive damages would not be awarded. In some states punitive damages must be “relatively proportionate” to the compensatory damages.

Should I Consult An Attorney Regarding Auto Accidents Caused By Failure To Give Signal?

If you have been involved in an auto accident, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney immediately. Determining who is at fault and why can be a challenge. An experienced car accident attorney can help with this and other issues, such as the amount of damages.

An experienced car accident attorney can help protect your right to recover from the driver who is at fault. They can represent you in court and help you deal with insurance companies as well. With an attorney as your representative, you will have your best chance of getting a good result.