The History of Blinkers

Direction-indicator lamps, commonly known as “blinkers” or turn signals, play an essential role in driving. They are equipped in our cars to give us an advantage while on the road – Letting the driver behind you know if you are going to turn. However, some drivers don’t know how or when to use this fundamental component. Furthermore, failing to use blinkers is one of the most common causes of vehicular accidents. That’s why when it comes to driving, these “turn signals” are vital. Here we will explore the history of these blinkers – and how did they become an important part of today’s vehicles.

Early stage of turn signals

Traced back to the early 20th century, hand signals were already being used before the invention of blinkers. These are simple gestures like raising your left forearm, while your elbows are slightly bent – indicating you are going to turn right. Early drivers are used to reading these signals to avoid accidents on the road. Up until today, hand signals are still often being used.

The idea of hand signals lead to an invention of a device – which was patented on 1907, by Percy Douglas-Hamilton. It was a device “indicating the intended movements of vehicles”. Since most drivers are used to reading hand signals, the device was shaped liked hands so it would be easy to understand.

Mechanical signaling arm

In 1914, a silent-film star Florence Lawrence invented a mechanical signaling arm. The device was attached to the rear bumper of a car. With a push of a button, it would raise or lower a flag on the rear bumper – which will inform other drivers which way a car was going to turn. However, unlike the device of Percy Douglas-Hamilton, this brilliant invention of Florence Lawrence was not patented – as a result, she didn’t received any credit nor profit from it.

Rapid progress of turn signals

A breakthrough in the evolution of turn signals could be credited to Edgar A. Walz Jr. In 1925, Walz patented the first modern turn signal – two flashing arrows and a brake light. He tried to market the device to major car manufacturers – However, they were not interested. Eventually, the patent expires after fourteen years with no buyer.

Many ideas followed – it came 1929, when Oscar J. Simler invented and patented his own version of the turn signal. Similar to its predecessors, it has two arrows pointing left and right, and a break light. It also comes with a separate light, to indicate whether the car is slowing down.

10 years later, a standard feature was introduced to major car manufacturers. The feature called “Flash-Way Directional Signal” was introduced by Buick in 1939. The device gained recognition – and became a standard feature in some of the major car companies in the market.

In 1940, one year after the success of Buick’s invention, an upgrade was made to the device. Instead of having the signals at the rear lights only, it was added to the front lights as well. Besides the additional signal lights, it now comes with a self-cancelling mechanism.

Turn signals become mandatory

In the early 1950s, despite the commonality of blinkers, it was still considered as an add-on accessory – an optional car part where you can purchase for your vehicle. Up until the late 1960s, where turn signals became mandatory. Rules and regulations were made in different countries – that require car companies to have blinkers factory-installed. In 1973, turn signals was also introduced to motorcycles – and became a standard feature to new motorcycles manufactured after January 1, 1973.

In 1980, a new upgrade was made to the common turn signals. Light-emitting diode or LED was introduced to car manufacturers. Instead of filament bulbs, LED technology was used in making turn signals – because of its energy efficiency and durability.

Turn signals today

Many innovations were made in the common turn signals – one of them is the three-blink function that was developed in 2011 by Ford. The three-blink function helps the driver to focus in driving. Unlike the usual self-cancelling mechanism, this new feature allows the turn signal to automatically shut off after three blinks. This could be useful in switching lanes, without doing a full turn – which is required in old turn signal designs.

In addition, there are some car models that have turn signals in their side mirrors – which can be helpful when another car is at the side, and the driver cannot see the turn signal at the back of your car.

Another great innovation in turn signals is the sideview camera. This feature offer drivers a better view of the surrounding area when driving. This could be activated by simply flicking the turn signal to which direction you are going to turn – then you will see a video view of that side of the road. This is very useful when making turns or switching lanes. Since most of the time, there are “blind spots” when making such turns – which could result to accidents.

After many years, turn signals improved tremendously. It once became a product of interest of every car enthusiast – and soon became an essential car component in our modern world. Turn signals could be a life-saver if used correctly or a nightmare if not. Either way, turn signals came a long way to prove its importance to every driver.