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Hand signals

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

I’ve been thinking about hand signals lately. I nearly always signal — it’s habitual. And I normally don’t give it much thought. However, I have noticed that a lot of drivers seem to be perplexed by some hand signals.

Back in the 80s, when I was learning to ride, I was taught to do all signals with my left hand. A right turn is signaled by holding the left arm out, bent upwards at the elbow. I have noticed that some cyclists will signal a right turn by holding out their right arm instead. I have resisted this, even though I believe it’s legally valid.

But lately, it has become clear to me that some drivers don’t understand what I’m doing when I signal a right turn with my left arm. Some think I’m waving at them — I’ve even had some wave back. Some think I’m making an obscene gesture and appear to be offended. Only a few seem to understand what I’m actually trying to communicate. So, I’ve decided it would be better to start signalling right turns with my right arm instead.

This has proven difficult. Old habits die hard. I really have to think about it to make myself signal right turns with my right arm. Sometimes, I forget. But hopefully, I can change my habits.

Do you use hand signals? Do you signal a right turn with your left arm or your right?

8 Responses to “Hand signals”

  1. Jon Grinder Says:

    There’s quite the discussion about this going on over at Let’s Go Ride A Bike. Check it out.


  2. Doug Says:

    Like you, I always signal, unless there are no cars around. I’ve discovered the same confusion from drivers. I recently started using my right arm for right hand turns. But not always, I sometime think the left arm signal is more visible. It kind of depends on how close the car is to me. If it’s well behind me, I’ll use the right arm. If the car is ovetaking me or close to me, I’ll signal with my left arm. Dave Moulton did a post a few months ago about this. Being from England he was taught to signal with the right arm and finds it curious why we signal with the left arm for a right hand turn.

  3. Apertome Says:

    Jon, thanks for the link. There is some very interesting discussion on that site.

  4. Scott Loveless Says:

    The left-handed right turn signal is a hold-over from the days when not every car had blinkers. It’s kinda hard to stick your right arm out the right window. PA does, in fact, allow bicyclists to signal a right turn with either arm. Still, I find that most drivers don’t understand. The mouth breathing, deer-in-the-headlights stare is a common response.

  5. Ray Says:

    When I resumed cycling two years ago, I signaled right turns with my left hand, but ran into the same responses you and others mention. Signaling with the right hand is acceptable, and is more easily understood. When I’m on my bike, I want to communicate my intentions clearly, so I’ll use the simplest method.

  6. Trisha Says:

    Quite the gamut of reactions you’ve encountered! I’ve confused people but I don’t think anyone’s been offended…yet. But I do think that the general consensus in our comments was that the “alternate” signal isn’t so alternate after all.

  7. doc Says:

    I tried the left hand/right turn thing for a while and it eventually evolved into the left hand pointing over my head to the right signal. That got so silly that now I use my right hand; and always make a point to move it a bit so it looks like I might be poking someone in the chest. That, combined with my course and body language, seems to get the message across.

    Now I’m trying to get people to slow down as they’re coming up behind me into a blind turn. I put my left hand straight down, palm open, and shake my hand around. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

  8. Hand signals « Bike Noob Says:

    […] a Comment Tags: hand signals, Safety I see that hand signals continue to be a topic of interest on some biking blogs. ¬†We all know the basic signals (As in the diagrams on the linked page, I signal a right turn by […]

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