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Who Invented the Turn Signal for Vehicles?

Discover the Genius Behind the Invention of Vehicle Turn Signals

Who Invented the Turn Signal for Vehicles?

Who Invented the Turn Signal

The turn signal is an indispensable feature of modern cars that allow drivers to indicate their intention of changing lanes or making a turn while on the road. The invention of the turn signal, however, was not always the norm, and drivers had to rely on other means to signal their moves.

The Need for Turn Signals

Before the invention of the turn signal, drivers had to rely on using their hands to indicate their turns. This method was not only inconvenient but also dangerous since it required one hand to leave the steering wheel, exposing both the driver and passengers to potential risk.

Although the first electric traffic signal was invented by Lester Wire in 1912, it took a few more years before the turn signal became a common feature of modern cars. The need for a reliable and consistent way of signaling turns took hold, leading to the invention of the turn signal.

The First Patent

The first patent for the turn signal was filed by Edgar A. Walz Jr. of Chicago in 1929, nearly two decades after cars became more prevalent on roads. Walz's patent for the "Auto Signaling Attachment" aimed at creating a device that would allow drivers an easier way to signal their intentions while behind the wheel.

The device consisted of a lever positioned behind the steering wheel, which the driver could move to the left or right, depending on the intended direction. The car's electrical system would activate a blinking light on top of the vehicle's fender, indicating the turn direction, with a small switch beneath the steering wheel to turn it off after the turn was made.

Improvements on the Original Design

Over time, the original turn signal design underwent several upgrades, including the addition of self-canceling mechanisms, which removed the need to manually turn off the signal after making a turn. Manufacturers began installing automatic self-canceling systems for turn signals in the late 1940s, making the feature even more convenient for drivers.

In the late 1950s, an electronic turn signal flasher using a relay, instead of a thermal flashing mechanism, was developed. This new system was more reliable and durable than previous versions, making it a popular choice among car manufacturers at the time.

Today, turn signals are standard equipment on all cars and are legally required in most countries worldwide. Some modern cars come equipped with fancier signaling methods, such as retractable side mirrors with integrated turn signals or elaborate LED lighting on the vehicle's body.


The invention of the turn signal was a significant development in the automotive industry, making it easier and safer for drivers to signal their intentions while on the road. Since their invention, turn signals have undergone several upgrades and improvements, making them an essential feature in any modern car.

The Impact of Turn Signals

Preventing Accidents

Turn signals have played a significant role in reducing the number of accidents on roads, making them a crucial aspect of vehicle safety. Studies indicate that the use of turn signals can prevent up to 2 million accidents per year in the United States alone. The indicators provide advanced warning to other road users on the driver's intentions.

Indicators are especially helpful in roundabouts, lane changes, and more, as they allow other drivers to anticipate the driver's movements and act accordingly. Turn signals also improve visibility and predictability on roadways and reduce the likelihood of collisions.

Legislation and Standardization

As cars rose in popularity, many countries recognized the importance of turn signals' safety benefits and passed legislation requiring their use. In the US, turn signals became mandatory in new vehicles in 1954, while countries like Canada and the UK made them mandatory in 1971 and 1986, respectively.

Over time, the placement and design of turn signals have become standardized across the automotive industry to further enhance their effectiveness. It is required that they are visible from a particular distance away from the vehicle. Turn signals are placed on the corner of the vehicle's front and rear, making them visible to drivers approaching from multiple directions, and they are usually yellow and orange, which stand out and catch drivers' eyes.

Future Innovations

As technology continues to evolve, so do turn signals. One potential area of development, as mentioned earlier, could be the implementation of turn signals in autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles may be programmed to give signals indicating to other vehicles that it intends to change lanes, turn, or merge.

The integration of indicators with GPS to indicate the driver's intentions is another potential innovation. For instance, a car approaching a roundabout would automatically signal when it realizes the driver plans to follow the road markings, reducing the driver's cognitive load and streamlining the driving process significantly.

Automakers and researchers are continually finding new approaches to enhance turn signal systems, and it is likely that the next generation of vehicles will continue to carry forward this critical safety feature while building on the groundwork laid by their predecessors.

The Evolution of Turn Signal Design

The turn signal is a fundamental element of safe driving that enables drivers to indicate their intentions to change direction or merge with traffic flow. The history of turn signal design is an intriguing tale of innovation, frustration, and creativity, as engineers and designers sought to develop a system that would provide clear guidance to other drivers without distracting the operator. In this article, we explore the fascinating evolution of turn signal design, from the earliest manual systems to the advanced automatic signals of the modern era.

Manual vs. Automatic Turn Signals

In the early days of motoring, turn signals were purely manual affairs. To indicate a turn, drivers would extend their hands from the vehicle and use a series of gestures to signal their intentions. For example, extending the left arm straight out to the left indicated a left turn, while a bent arm pointing upward indicated a right turn. These hand signals were simple but effective when traffic was light, but they presented problems when vehicles were traveling at high speeds or in heavy traffic. It was difficult for drivers to maintain control of the car while using hand signals, and the signals were not always visible to other drivers.The electric turn signal was first introduced in the 1920s, as manufacturers began to develop ways to automate the process of signaling turns. The earliest electric signals were crude by modern standards and were often unreliable. Drivers would manually operate a lever or button to activate the signal, and the signal itself was usually an illuminated arrow located on the vehicle's fender or side window. These early systems were prone to failure as a result of rain, snow, or other weather conditions, and their conspicuity was limited during daylight hours.

The Turn Indicator Switch

The turn indicator switch was developed in the late 1920s as a way to improve the reliability and effectiveness of electric turn signals. The switch operated by sending an electrical signal to the signal light, which would then blink on and off to indicate the driver's intentions. The switch was typically mounted on the steering column, where it was easy to access while driving. Early versions of the switch were operated manually, requiring the driver to push or pull the switch to activate the signal. Later models incorporated a spring-loaded mechanism that would automatically return the switch to its normal position after the turn was completed.The turn indicator switch has undergone numerous design changes over the years, as engineers have sought to improve its functionality and ease of use. Some of the earliest models were mounted on the dashboard or the floor of the vehicle, while other models were mounted on the driver's side door or the center console. In the 1950s and 1960s, designers began to incorporate the turn indicator switch into the steering column itself, making it possible for drivers to manipulate the switch without taking their hands off the wheel.

Modern Design Features

Today's turn signals are a far cry from the crude hand signals of the early days, and even the simple electric arrow signals of the mid-20th century. Modern turn signal design features include a variety of advanced technologies, such as LED (light emitting diode) lights, which improve visibility and longevity. LED lights use less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, which means they are more energy-efficient and generate less heat. In addition, some modern turn signals are designed to activate the brake lights when the turn signal is engaged, alerting other drivers to the driver's intentions to change lanes or turn. This feature provides an added level of safety to drivers, especially in high-speed traffic situations.In conclusion, the evolution of turn signal design is a testament to the ongoing quest for safety and convenience on the road. From the earliest hand signals to the sophisticated automatic systems of today, turn signals have come a long way, providing drivers with a simple yet critical tool for navigating the hazards of the roadway. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more innovative design features and safety enhancements that will make driving even safer and more enjoyable.

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