The statutes for use of appropriate signals for stopping, turning, changing lanes, or suddenly decelerating a motor vehicle are set forth in ORS 811.390 – ORS811.405. Proper signals include turn lights or, under certain circumstances, hand and arm signals. In this section, we shall address all of these issues.
In general, the DMV’s publication–the Oregon Driver Manual—sets out the basic concepts. It makes clear that you must always signal before you turn, change lanes, move to the right or left, or pull away from the curb. Before making such a move, be sure that you can do so safely. Check ahead, behind, and to the side in all of these situations. If your vehicle is moving in traffic, for example, then use your signal at least 100-feet before making a turn or lane change. When you are parked at a curb and about to re-enter traffic, then use a signal long enough to alert oncoming traffic that you are that you are moving into a traffic lane. You should also signal before you slow down or stop. Gently put your foot on the brake. Your stop lights will alert other drivers behind you, and signal them that you are slowing down.
The times of day and weather conditions are also important issues with regard to your decision as to whether or not to use hand-and-arm signals. Use hand and arm signals only in daylight hours when you need them and can clearly see people and vehicles at a distance of 1,000-feet. At night—or when visibility is poor—you must use turn signal lights, not hand-and-arm signals. That is because hand-and-arm signals do not provide enough of a warning any time that you are driving a wide or long vehicle.
Unlawful use of lights to Signal for Passing
A driver commits the offense of unlawful use of lights to signal for passing if the driver flashes any lights as a courtesy or does a pass signal to other drivers who are approaching from the rear [ORS 811.390].
Appropriate Signals for Stopping, Turning, Changing lanes, and Decelerating:
Appropriate signals are as follows:
- To indicate a left turn, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arm extended horizontally from the left side of the vehicle; (b) activation of front and rear turn signal lights on the left side of the vehicle.
- To indicate a right turn, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arms extended upward from the left side of the vehicle; (b) activation of front and rear turn signals on the right side of the vehicle.
- To indicate a stop or decrease in speed, either of the following would be appropriate: (a) hand or arm extended downward from the left side of the vehicle or, (b) activation of brake lights on the vehicle [ORS 811.395].
Failure to Signal with Lights
Under the provisions of ORS 811.405, a driver commits the offense of failing to signal with lights when the driver does not use the lighting equipment described under ORS 811.395.
The provisions of ORS 811.395 discuss the appropriate signals for stopping, turning, changing lanes, and decelerating. These situations are present under any of the following circumstances:
- During limited visibility conditions;
- At any time that a driver is operating a vehicle or a combination of vehicles in which the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the left outside limit of the body, cab, or load of the vehicle is greater than 24-inches;
- At any time that a driver is operating vehicle or a combination of vehicles in which the distance from the center of the top of the steering post to the rear limit of the body or load is greater than 14-feet [ORS 811.405(1) (a) (b) (c)].
NOTE: The driver of a moped or bicycle shall signal by means of appropriate hand and arm signals—as discussed in ORS 811.395 (see above).
Failure to use appropriate Signal for turn, Lane change, Stop or Exit from a Roundabout
A driver commits the offense of failure to use an appropriate signal for a turn, lane change, stop, or exit from a roundabout if: (1) the person does not make the appropriate signal under the various provisions of ORS 811.395 (see above). This situation takes place in circumstances where a driver is:
(a) Turning, changing lanes, stopping, or suddenly decelerating, or
(b) Exiting from any position within a roundabout [ORS 811.400].
NOTE: This section does not authorize the use of hand signals when the use of lights is required under the provisions of ORS 811.405 (Failure to signal without lights).
The Meaning of the word “turn” in Oregon’s case-law
In the case of, State of Oregon v. Bea, 318 Ore. 220 (1993), the court admitted that neither the text of ORS 811.335, not the text of ORS 811.400, defines what type of driving maneuver constitutes a “turn” within the meaning of those provisions.
The court in Bea consulted Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (unabridged) (1976) in order to discover a more precise meaning of what constitutes a “turn.” Based upon the dictionary definition, the court in Bea noted: “The ordinary meaning of the noun ‘turn’ is “the act of taking a direction or a different direction,” “change of course.” Also, it found that the noun “turn” also should be defined as “the action or an act of turning aside (as from a straight course).” The verb “to turn” ordinarily means “to cause to take another path or direction,” “to change the direction of,” “to cause to go or move in a particular direction,” “to direct one’s course,” and to “take a different course or direction.”
Examples: What all of these definitions mean for the specific legal requirements for undertaking lane changes, turning, and signaling in Oregon case-law are as follows:
- Where the legislature did not quality the term lane, it is apparent that the legislature intended the term to include all lanes of highway—including those used for parking [State v. Thomas, 104 Or App 1226 (1990)];
- A defendant-driver who is driving in the merge lane and entering the driving lane is required to signal [State v. Belcher, 108 Or App 741 (1991)];
- Where a right turn was the only available and the only lawful option, then the driver was not required to signal [State v. Padilla, 119 Or App 27 (1993)].
In making sense of all of these examples, the Oregon Driver Manual on the subject of “turns” and signaling sums it up the best, when it states that: “The general rule for turning is to turn from the closest lane in the direction you are traveling to the closest lane in the direction you want to go. Do not change lanes while turning. Rules for turning apply at all locations, such as driveways and alleys, not just at intersections. Turn smoothly and at a lower speed for safety.” When a driver follows these rules for turning, he-she should also keep in mind the requirements for the proper use of signals.