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I usually signal "turn left" and "turn right" and "pass me by, take point". However, there is one more situation that happens to me often and I do not know a widely accepted gesture to convey my thoughts.

How do I express that "I am sorry." to a car driver near me (car driver == probably won't hear me, so a hand gesture is needed). As in "I cut you off, sorry man!".

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3  
Just yell. Cars aren't soundproof. –  Stephen Touset Jun 27 '12 at 12:42
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Don't yell. It's unlikely you'll be understood, and you risk just seeming angry. –  Reid Jul 4 '12 at 18:25
    
@ Stephen Touset, I yell when (1) it;s summer, so car druver window is open and (2) not too busy intersection(in those I can't hear the cyclist in front of me!) –  Vorac Aug 22 '13 at 18:20
    
I think it must be the middle finger, pointed upward and with your palm facing you. At least this is what I see some drivers doing when they should be apologizing to me. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 18 at 15:12

7 Answers 7

up vote 28 down vote accepted

I use a sort of wave, raising my hand but with no movement in it (so not a 'Hey buddy' or 'I need help' side to side movement).... it works on my bicycle, on my motorcycle, and while driving a vehicle. It's got somewhat of a dual purpose: acknowledgement that I did something wrong, and/or 'thanks for letting me in' gratitude gesture.

The motorcycle I find a very odd case of this. It's 95% not me giving the gesture, but receiving it after being cut off, not seen, turned in front of, etc. People are in general not interested in showing any rage and are quick to apologize when I'm on one, even if I'm not wearing the armored jacket and helmet. I don't get even half this respect in vehicles or bicycles.

That was a side note that I've found interesting, but the point is that it's the same gesture I seem to get from many other people. There's no side/side or waving motion, just a hand up, fingers together, "Thanks/Sorry".

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This is apparently the most widely accepted answer and practice. Actually that is what I use most often. –  Vorac Jul 3 '12 at 7:17

I have seen and used a sheepish wave and a shoulder shrug or head bow, never had someone try to beat me up after that.

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I like the head bow idea. However, on busy roads, I often do not have the time to look the person in the eyes and bow (need my attention elsewhere). I wave friendly at them, but I am concerned that this may be sendidng the message that I think I know the person. –  Vorac Jun 27 '12 at 10:49
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The idea to pretend you are an acquaintance of the driver and greet him enthusiastically is very interesting. It's puzzling and embarassing enough to distract from rage etc. –  heltonbiker Jun 28 '12 at 16:29

I wave if I can but sometimes that's not possible because I'm controlling the bike. I always give them a look of apology and say "sorry" even though they can't hear me. I slightly exaggerate the look and the lip movements so that I can be sure that they see it. And most people can read lips well enough to pick up "sorry" even across an intersection. I usually get a wave back, so I know it works most of the time.

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In Hawaii, it's common for drivers (and cyclists, I suppose) to use the shaka to communicate an apology on the road:

Shaka

To folks who know about it, the sign carries the same range of positive meanings as Aloha and should be taken as a friendly gesture. While it doesn't specifically communicate apology, the sign is used as a relaxed greeting, which could diffuse a hostile situation.

As far as I know, the sign doesn't resemble any rude gestures. As always, be sure to check with a local for the meaning of any hand signals used in an unfamiliar culture!

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HHAHA!! I was going to say this since I grew up in Hawaii. You can com e flying out of a side street, nearly clip the guys bumper, almost run him off the road, but throw the shaka and everything is goes on like nothing happened. Happened to me last time I was visiting my parents!! –  BillyNair Jun 28 '12 at 3:04
    
"Dude, hang loose. Oh, and call me?" –  Neil Fein Jun 29 '12 at 4:09
    
Lol, this answer is great. I sometimes use [the horns][1], but that's rather "You rock, man!" rather than an excuse. [1]: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_of_the_horns –  Vorac Jul 3 '12 at 7:15

Short answer - there's no widely recognized hand gesture for I'm sorry.

You could try the American Sign Language for sorry:

ASL - sorry

I'm not sure how likely it is that this will be understood by the other person though.

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I have never heard of it. I guess it is not too difficult to interpret this sign as a malicious one (e.g. "Scram off") –  Vorac Jun 27 '12 at 10:52
    
I like it. It forces cyclist to turn to driver but still, +1. –  Helbreder Jun 27 '12 at 12:23
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Considering that almost no drivers will get the meaning of this sign, and that many may misinterpret it to mean something nasty on your part, I think this is a terrible idea. (I know a few ASL signs and I didn't know this.) –  Neil Fein Jun 27 '12 at 17:13
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I'm not sure if this crosses the Atlantic, but that's very close to a very rude gesture in Britain. –  Stuart Pegg Jun 28 '12 at 14:22
    
The picture doesn't make it clear, but your fist is supposed to be against your chest, not out in the air. You're not shaking your fist at someone. Also, in ASL you would bow your head and make a forlorn facial expression. All together, it's pretty obviously not a sign of aggression. A (non-ASL) alternative would be to put your fist on your chest and bow your head. –  Jay Bazuzi Jun 30 '12 at 1:30

Thinking about it, and considering that non-verbal, single-handed signal is preferred, I think that:

  • Touching your head with the fingertips, above and behind the ear;
  • Shrugging the shoulders and;
  • Raising the eyebrows;

In sort of a "oops, what have I done! So sorry!" attitude, might be very well interpreted/understood by drivers, and probably dissolve any aggressive behaviour (if any) on his/her part.

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+1 But they may think you've suddenly realised you left the oven on... –  Stuart Pegg Jun 28 '12 at 15:25

I have thought about this a lot. What usually works for me is raising the left hand palm in and fingers up and covering my ear and lowering the head slightly. a gesture of submission, the covering of the ear "please don't yell at me for my mistake". Then raising palm upward and forward in a surrender mode. I am sorry.

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