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Automatic indicators on the way

The SAE has found drivers forget to use their indicators almost half the time when changing lanes.

Engineers are working on using sensors and computers already installed in most cars to automatically activate indicators when a vehicle starts to turn a corner or change a lane.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has found drivers forget to use their indicators almost half the time when changing lanes (48 per cent) and on only one in four turns (25 per cent). Human behavioural factors, including incorrect turning signals, are believed to be responsible for as much as 97 per cent of road fatalities.

The SAE says "smart'' indicators would prompt drivers to indicate and turn them off electronically when the turn or lane change is completed. The system would operate by using vehicle sensors and computer controls that are already being used in electronic stability control which is now available in every new car sold in Australia.

It would also do away with the mechanical switch that turns off indicators and has been in vehicles since the 1940s. Fatality Free Friday and road safety author founder Russell White says the idea of automated indicators "sounds ok". "But I wonder how that would go with lane changes," he says. "You have to assume that you'd still have do to that in advance some how; not sure how the car would know that was about to happen and could give a few flashes prior to making the move.

"On one hand it sounds like an advantage and could be good but it could also potentially dumb down the art of driving to some degree." RACQ safety policy executive manager Steve Spalding welcomes any new technology that can make driving safer. "But it is important that technology is not used to substitute those responsibilities we have as drivers, such as signaling before lane changing, turning or making other manoeuvres and remembering to cancel the indicators afterwards,'' he says.

"Making the technology sufficiently 'smart' to cover all the different situations where drivers would need to safely indicate their intentions to change lanes or directions is not only a challenge but unlikely to be foolproof in terms of the system making the right predictive decisions, that's why we as drivers must have the right skills to maintain proper control of the vehicle at all times  and use them.