What are sequential indicators?

  • Originally seen on American cars of the 1960s
  • LED technology makes them reliable and bright
  • Enhanced visibility and attention-getting signals

Signalling your intention to other road users has, thankfully, evolved somewhat since the early days of motoring. Though the Highway Code still retains an easily remembered set of arm gestures to communicate a left turn, right turn or braking, cars have had devices to do that for the driver for almost a century.

Now we're in the 21st century the amount of visual clutter and distraction has increased significantly, and the humble blinking orange light on the side of the car may not be enough to grab the attention of other road users.

Enter, then, the sequential, or scrolling, indicator. Rather than merely flashing, the lights move across the car in the direction of intended travel. If nothing else, it's encouraged drivers of certain marques to actually use their indicators more to show off the advanced technology - and widespread adoption suggests that the directional signal is more effective, too.

Origins of the sequential indicator

Like most car technology, it's taken a while to really catch on - and early examples were seen on American Fords in the 1960s. That system was partially inspired by the US-market trend to have brake and signal lights combined, so drivers were faced with an array of flashing red signals in heavy traffic.

It didn't hurt that tail light design and signatures have been a vital part of American design since the 1950s, so anything pretty and eyecatching would give that car a clear identity on the road.

The 1965 Thunderbird and '67 Cougar with sequential indicators didn't have the advanced electronics found in today's cars - the effect of illuminating three bulbs in sequence was acheived by a motor mechanically closing switches! Naturally this heavy, unreliable tech only lasted a short time before early transitors took over, but even then the high power demands of conventional bulbs stressed components.

In 1973 sequential indicators left the market, until Ford reintroduced them on the 2010 Mustang - and firms like Audi followed suit taking advantage of low power modern LED lights and cheap, robust electronics.

Sequential indicators in the UK

From a handful of high-end models to a widespread option, the safety benefits of a sequential indicator have captured buyer's attention. Most manufacturers offer some form of progressive turn signal, either the smooth scroll of the distinctive Audi LEDs or rather simpler blocks of three.

2017 Audi A3

And the Ford Mustang?

Ford Mustang Steeda Q500

One pioneer loses the signals when it arrives in the UK, however - the Ford Mustang. When sold in America it's allowed sequential lights, because it has three separate large lights. Our regulations require cars to have a single lamp unit - even if that unit splits in two for a panel, it can't be spaced apart.

Ford Mustang tail light UK

Conversely American market imported cars may not get sequential LED indicators for some time, as the US regulations specify a minimum lighting area per bulb and if they light up individually in a sequence, each single LED is counted as a bulb.