Repeal of Mandatory Turn Signal Laws
In the News:
(Atlanta, August 15, 2010) The Georgia legislature today repealed the state’s decades old prohibition against using automobile turn signals. Since just after the introduction of the electric turn signal by Buick in 1938, Georgia law had made it a misdemeanor for drivers to signal their turns in advance of beginning the turn. It had also prohibited signaling to warn of a lane change.
David Ralston, Speaker of the Georgia House, explained that the law’s repeal was required for Georgia to continue to receive federal highway funds. He said that few in the House had even been aware of the old law, believing that Georgians’ turn signal habits were simply the product of tradition. He also noted that although the Department of Motor Vehicles’ driver’s education manual had always included a warning not to use turn signals (except while actually turning) on state roads, it did not cite the actual law or penalty. It wasn’t until the House Transportation Committee’s Monster Truck Subcommittee held hearings on a proposal to prohibit the use of airplane landing lights on tall trucks that a staffer stumbled on the actual Georgia statute.
Research into the former statute’s legislative history revealed that the late 1930s Georgia legislators were very concerned about Nazi spies as well as a potential new War of Northern Aggression, sometimes also known in the South as the “Recent Unpleasantness.” The possibility of an invasion by Germans or Northern forces, the legislators took testimony from local military experts, who advised that using turn signals would make it easier for Nazi or Yankee infiltrators to follow innocent Georgians to their homes, businesses and deer stands. Armstrong “Bubba” McCluskey, a co-sponsor of the bill, was quoted widely on the subject, saying “We must take every reasonable precaution not to give potential enemies any advantage Turn signals in motor cars are not only an unnecessary expense but they give skulking fifth columnists, saboteurs and other enemies help finding their way around down here.” Following McClusky’s lead, Georgia passed the anti-turn signal law. At the same time, it also passed a law requiring Georgia streets and highways longer than five miles to change names frequently.
The last known prosecution under the former turn-signal law was of Lester “Buddy” Stubbs in Twiggs County back in 1978. Stubbs, who faced a possible $500 fine and 30 days in jail, was acquitted of the charge after his lawyer convinced the judge that his client didn’t know what turn signals were or that his 1949 Ford pickup even had them. Stubbs testified that his hand must have slipped off the steering wheel and accidentally hit the signal lever. The signal apparently stayed on for several months before Stubbs was spotted by the Twiggs County Deputy Sheriff turning left into his girlfriend's driveway. Stubbs said that he had never before driven a vehicle equipped with turn signals and thought the dashboard clicking and flashing had something to do with the speedometer. Unfortunately for Stubbs, the subsequent investigation revealed that he had stolen the pickup truck five months earlier from a farmer in north Florida. Florida requires motor vehicles to be equipped with turn signals. The publicity also revealed to Stubbs's wife the fact that he had a girlfriend. Stubbs served a 3-5 year sentence for his crime, during which time his wife obtained a divorce.
Georgians interviewed about the change in the law had varied reactions. Mrs. George Mathers of Macon said that it will not affect her driving habits. “Daddy told me never to use turn signals. I’m glad the new law doesn’t say I actually have to.”
Mrs. Robert Leeds of Hahira said that her husband, a car dealer, wonders whether Georgia dealers will be required to sell cars equipped with turn signal levers. “You know,” said Mrs. Leeds, “some cars have them already, but my friends’ husbands just rewire them to change channels on the radio. “
Henry Bobbin of Warner Robbins expressed disappointment with the Georgia legislature. “Caving in to Washington is never good policy. The next thing you know, they’ll make a law that we have to stop at stop signs!”
Legislators interviewed off the record, trying to emphasize the personal safety and national security purpose of the change in the law, said that the legislature has always been interested in the general welfare of Georgians. "It does appear that the danger of invasion by Germans and Yankees has abated somewhat in recent years," said one legislator, "although there are plenty of them around Atlanta. And I personally worry about about inadvertently giving driving aid to the many Al Quaeda operatives in my south-Georgia county. I am comforted somewhat by the fact that they are all obvious because of their headgear. But I doubt that everyone in Georgia is as sophisticated about terrorists as I am."
Another legislator, who did not wish to be named, said that she hoped that the Speaker would soon impanel a special subcommittee to investigate what the words “speed limit” mean on the signs along Georgia’s federal roadways.