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Turn signals in traffic – part two

by Miha Ernstschneider STS

If you take in account that a car is driving on 4 wheels and the motion of the car is limited only to »two dimensions«, let us define the car’s movement to two parameters:



  • Forward/backwards
  • Left/right

What about motorcycles? We ride a bike on the same roads as we do cars and one might assume the »two dimensions« apply to a motorcycle also – well, it is a matter of perspective but let me explain where I am going. The motorcycle movement shares the car’s movement in both parameters described above:




  • Forward/backwards
  • Left/right
  • Something is missing – INCLINATION!

Cars turn the wheels according to the change a driver makes with a steering wheel. You can also turn your wheel on a motorcycle with a change of the rudder position, but there is one more, very important parameter that makes your motorcycle make a turn – inclination, hence the mechanical solution on a rudder of a motorcycle can’t be a solution, well, at least not an effective one.

Starting the development from scratch, motorcycle industry introduced completely new solutions for the turn signal use, mostly for the self-cancelling part of the »backbreaking« task of cancelling manually – I hope you realise when I’m being sarcastic.

What were the motorcycles’ industry solutions and why didn’t they succeed?


  • The most obvious solution – manually turn the indicator on and a timer will cancel it after predetermined
  • Some tried to define the point of cancellation with predetermined distance covered after manually turning the indicator on.
  • None of the above attempts worked to the rider’s desires so why not combine both of the solutions with predetermined time/distance parameters.
  • Measuring inclination level with predetermined bank angle. When the motorcycle straightens up, the turn signals cancel automatically.
  • Front/rear wheel speed comparison – basically the idea is the same as with inclination, the difference is that in order to make the wheels spin with the same speed, the motorcycle has to ride in a straight line.

You might have noticed that a certain word is in BOLD every time it repeats itself – this is the part I will come back to a bit later. And now the part where I believe the reasons are none of the above solution succeeded to become standard even though, there is one manufacturer that is using the inclination solution almost as standard on most of their bikes, but to stay politically correct, I will not name them directly.

As described above in the FUN FACTS 2 section of my boring turn signal blog, there are many reasons and issues that are mostly the same as with the car system:

  • Timer related solution is very cheap but ineffective since, during a ride, you can cover different distances in the same time at different speeds. Let’s say the timer is predetermined to 15 second – at 30 km/h, you will cover approximately 125 m, at 50 km/h, you will cover approximately 210 m… in a city traffic, this may lead to crossing several crossings with a turn signal indicating a turn you are not willing to make.
  • Distance related solutions – the issues with this solution can be correlated with those above. Let’s say the distance parameter is predetermined to 150m – you will still cross intersections in cities with a blinking indicator putting yourself in danger but on highways at higher speeds, you will make the 150m in a matter of a second, not even remotely enough time to successfully communicate what you are willing to do.
  • Combination of time/distance related solutions – well, if you combine two bad solutions…
  • Measuring the inclination level might seem a bit more promising at first but there are numerous situations in traffic where your motorcycle is not levelled up straight – a roundabout exit starts when the motorcycle is leaned towards the inside of a roundabout and it is levelled up straight before you even start to exit the roundabout – the result is the turn signals are cancelled too soon since the automatic cancellation is again predetermined by levelling the motorcycle straight up.

It is obvious that 77-year-old technology desperately needs an upgrade. Let’s be honest, it is not hard to operate the turn signals manually but the biggest failure by doing this is ourselves – we, the drivers and the riders are the ones that are making ourselves and other occupants in traffic nervous, endangered and sometimes deeply affected in situations that happen on a daily basis to those, who are driving or riding.

I believe it is obvious that there is a lot to be developed in order to overcome the standard turn signal issues and it is time to get to the bolded word – predetermined. As you know from your experience, every turn, every traffic situation, every change in traffic is different but on the other hand, every predetermined parameter always stays the same – predetermined solutions don’t adapt to the ever changing motion in traffic they don’t take in consideration the decisions of other participants in traffic that affect the speed, the angle, the time and the distance it takes to make a change of way in traffic.

The solution might seem very obvious and simple – sense the motion and the position in real time and react accordingly! But as in most cases, there is a catch. J As described above, a motion of a motorcycle is so complex and so frustratingly hard to decipher to solve this puzzle that up until now, no one managed to open this specific »Pandora’s Box«.

Well there is a small team from a small country that I was lucky enough to meet and they claim, they have done it – a team of 4 little David’s went to the land of Goliath and tackled the big monster. This time the Goliath wasn’t beaten with a stone, but with a clever piece of ingenuity, a small electronic device that operates in a smooth choreography of a motion sensor and a pretty damn smart algorithm. They call it Smart Turn System and when I “googled” it, I found some pretty amazing and inspiring reviews and it seems, their users can’t find words great enough to express their satisfaction – did they really manage to succeed in what the big players in the industry couldn’t come even remotely close to develop? I think I have found another interesting topic for another blog about the not so boring topic of turn signals on vehicles