Saturday, October 16, 2021

There is a lot of consternation, concern and frustration from Expats over the use of car indicators in Portugal. 

The Portuguese don't mind and there seems to be little concern when an indicator is not used or used indicator

Caldas da Rainha is a great town for observing the use of Indicators in Portugal, there are no traffic lights in the town only roundabouts, so it is important to use indicators correctly to assist other road users.

The use of roundabouts in general and the apparent rules that we have written, are available in another article.

We do see a huge number of people using, abusing or ignoring their indicators and the use of car horns on our roundabout seems to complement this. But car horns are not used in an aggressive way. A car horn is not accompanied by a shaking of the fist or a rude gesture but merely to let the other driver know that they have completely got it wrong.

But this article is written not about roundabouts, but as a guide to the understanding of the use of indicators.

Just to be clear, the indicators are the orange lights on the corners of the car and also on the the wing mirrors of cars that need a mortgage to purchase. If the lights are white, you have probably driven or reversed into something: this is an indicator that you need to get your car or lorry repaired.

Indicators are operated by the use of a stick located close to the steering wheel. There is  generally more than one stick behind the steering wheel.

Correct stick selection is important!

If your windscreen wipers come on, this is the wrong stick and you have not let the other road users know you are planning to turn.

If the cruise control takes over your speed, once again, this has not indicated your direction of travel and this is the wrong stick.

If the stereo gets louder or quieter or picks a new radio station or CD track, then once again this does not help other users, but do enjoy the music and select another stick.

If your bonnet pops open or your steering wheel changes height, this is definitely not the right arm, stick, lever or button to tell other drivers where you plan to go. In this case we advise that you should stop immediately.

If any of the above occur, then quickly choose another stick. If all of the above occur, then you need to re-orient yourself with the car or stay off the roads.

The indicator normally comes with a clicking sound to let you know that it is working but if you have used the stereo stick before, then you may not be aware of this as you may not hear it. The indicator is also accompanied by a flashing green or orange light in the shape of an arrow on your dashboard console and should tell you which direction you have selected.

If the arrow appears to be pointing in the opposite direction of your planned turn, then consider moving the stick to the opposite setting so that other road users have a chance of guessing where you might be going.

So now we need to explain how to read the indicators of other road users in Portugal.

In the UK, the highway code explains very simply how to use your car to turn with the simple statement......

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

In Portugal, this process has a few more stages and cannot be explained using single words, but phrases.......

Slow down a bit, Maybe touch your brakes, Hesitate, Check your mobile phone, Speed up , Break hard, Turn, Indicate, Check your mirror to see why somebody is pressing their horn.

If turning left across traffic, then also pull well over to the right so you can swing in ensuring that the driver behind believes you are pulling over so they can try to overtake you.

If turning right, once again, make sure that you use the whole of the road by swinging left into the lane of the oncoming traffic.

In both left and right turns ensure that you leave indicating to the very last minute, when you have made the manoeuvre or fail to indicate at all.

So now we know how to turn on an indicator and how to use it to tell other road users what you are probably planning to do.

A hidden feature to indicators is the off setting, which may work automatically on some vehicles but generally you can ignore this and just leave it in the on position at all times.

If you wish to turn an indicator off, just return it to the mid position and the flashing lights and irritating display and noisy clicking should stop. This is not obligatory.

So now we need to explain how you should interpret other road users signals to make your driving safer and give you a chance of not crashing, overtaking someone who is turning left or just giving you some karma.


On a roundabout, ignore all indicators as they are most likely to be wrong.

Someone indicating right, will be turning off at some point in the next two or three exits.

Someone indicating left will be turning off sooner than you think and most likely be cutting across the nose of your car as they will be in the outside lane.

Someone not using an indicator should be kept behind as they have not yet decided what they are going to do. And it will not be what you expect.

Motorwayscars in queue

On motorways, indicators are different kettle of fish. As we previously explained, indicators have the hidden feature of turning off after a manoeuvre but this is also assisted by the quarter turn of the wheel which can be dangerous at high speeds. So generally indicators will be left on if someone has bothered to tell another road user what their intentions were at sometime in the past 20 or 30 kilometres.

If a vehicle is in the slow lane (right lane in case you didn't know) and indicating left and there is no one in front of them, they probably have the stereo too loud, are making a mobile call or playing games or they are having a snack or chatting to a passenger. In this case it is more than probable that they are safe to overtake.

If the vehicle is in the right lane and coming up very fast on the vehicle in front and you are overtaking in the left lane, the vehicle may or may not be indicating. There is no need for this vehicle to indicate as they will almost definitely pull out on you with or without indicating at the very last minute. At this point you can indicate in several ways. First you indicate to the car behind you that you are slowing down by slamming on the brakes. Second you indicate using your horn that this was not a good decision by the other driver. Third, once the incident has passed you indicate to the driver as you pass them by baring your teeth, shaking your fist or any other gesture you feel appropriate.

A car travelling in the fast lane does not need to indicate if they realise that they have nearly missed the junction, they can just cross the white line and veer off down the slip road. In this case the car or truck they have cut up will indicate by flashing their lights and blowing their horn.

NB. In the worst case scenario, you indicate an accident by placing your warning triangle in the road and wearing a yellow vest.

One other use of indicators on the motorway is usually reserved for expensive large cars such as Mercedes and BMWs.

If one of these is behind you in the fast lane and indicating to the left, this may be accompanied by flashing headlights. You may not be able to see these as they will drive a standard 50cm behind you, so your rear-view mirror will not be able to show the lights.

The appropriate response to this should be to touch you brakes so you don't slow but your break lights come on, or just to slow down gradually until they get the message (this is a joke and should not be tried on the motorway), Hey Portugal accepts no responsibility for this action.

Other Vehicles

On mopeds and bikes, the indicators do not appear to work in any circumstances. The indication for these vehicles is a wide swing around a pothole or sudden turn into the street. Main indication for these vehicles appears to be gravel rash when they got it wrong.

For trucks, buses, tractors and other large vehicles, indicators are used randomly and they have a right to do so as they are bigger than you.


Hopefully this should clear up the situation on indicators and indicating on the road.

If in doubt, back off and drive slowly giving other road (ab)users plenty of space.