Hand Signals

I have taken a little break, but hopefully now I can manage regular posts again.


Most people think that digital communication is a fairly new technique, but car drivers have been communicating with their digits (one in particular) pretty much since the automobile was invented. But that is not the kind of hand signal I am going to talk about today.


Cyclists on a group ride use various hand signals to alert riders behind them of various road hazards, but that is not the kind of hand signal I am going to talk about today.


Today’s topic is the kind of hand signals you will find in your DMV handbook. The actually apply to cars, motorcycles and bicycles. Actually the apply to any vehicle sharing the public roads. There are 3 basic signals, left turn, right turn, and stop (or suddenly decrease speed).

Generally they look like this:

From the NC DMV handbook (which is clearly for car drivers):


Hand signals are given from the driver’s window, using the left arm and hand:
• To signal a left turn, hold the arm and hand straight out and point the first finger.
• To signal a right turn, hold the arm straight out and the forearm and hand straight up, palm facing forward.
• To signal stopping and slowing down, point the arm and hand down, palm facing back.


The California vehicle code is similar but allows for a cyclist to just point right for a right turn.

  • Left turn-hand and arm extended horizontally beyond the side of the vehicle.
  • Right turn-hand and arm extended upward beyond the side of the vehicle, except that a bicyclist may extend the right hand and arm horizontally to the right side of the bicycle.
  • Stop or sudden decrease of speed signal-hand and arm extended downward beyond the side of the vehicle.

So why am I talking about this? It seems obvious. Everyone knows this. Well watching cyclists often makes it seem like they have never heard of these signals. It is kind of like the $70,000 Mercedes that doesn’t seem to have blinkers. It well known that being predictable is a key to bicycle safety. Signalling your turns and stops is the most basic part of being predictable.


Now I cannot guarantee that drivers will even know what the signals mean. I once had a woman who seemed old enough to remember hand signals for cars, pull along side me on Academy Street in downtown Cary, NC and ask what my hand signals meant. More evidence for the need for better education regarding sharing the road. I was just about at the first banner on the right when asked the somewhat scary question.


This kind of reaction from a driver combined with the calousnous of drivers and the laziness of cyclists could lead us to just give up signaling. But remember first that there are a lot of decent drivers out there. And lastly remember that what other do is largely out of our control. We can only control our own actions. I hope we are all choosing safety, predicatablity and signaling.


Now if all this hand signalling just seems too old fashion, go out and get you a set of Bicygnals.