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I am looking for some guidance on what hand signals and strategies to keep me alive on the roads.

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Perhaps the question here isn't what signals are official or accepted, but what hand signals work the best in the US? @Richard, if that was the intent of this question, perhaps change the title appropriately? (That'll make this definitely community wiki, but it already kinda should be.) Or is that a completely separate question? If so, let's do it! –  Neil Fein Oct 1 '10 at 23:02
    
Note that in the US there were, for many decades, several states that interchanged the "left turn" and "slow/stop" signals. They finally brought their laws in line with the rest of the nation in the 70s, though, IIRC. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 19 '11 at 20:37
    
In response to freiheit's answer, I am surprised to learn that there is actually a straight forward hand signal. Today I was right-hooked by a hospital patient shuttle in Boston, MA (bike and I were OK). The police officer who responded told me that too, though I was very incredulous - I've never heard of it or seen anybody use this signal before. Also, when the vehicle cuts you off, it is usually too late for them to see any signals you care to make, and you might be better off with both hands on the brakes. –  user7452 Jul 12 '13 at 3:47
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Actual legal signals:

  • Left Turn - hand out straight to the left (with palm forward (not down or up). I'll often point with two fingers to help convey the message.
  • Right Turn - hand out straight to the right; mirror of the left turn.
  • Stop (or slow) - Left hand straight down with palm flat.

Commonly recommended but not necessarily exactly what the law says:

  • Merging - Point at the lane position you're merging to. Looking over your shoulder in the direction you're going to merge can also help make drivers aware you're planning to merge. Or point straight, the same as with a turn.
  • Straight forward (at intersection) - point forward.

In most of the US, left hand straight up (palm forward) and upper arm straight to the left to signal a right turn is a legal alternative or the legally preferred signal, but many drivers will misinterpret it. I highly recommend using the right hand straight out to the right version (either with palm forward or pointing with your fingers), since many people are either unfamiliar with the left-arm-straight-up signal, or misinterpret it (perhaps even as a rude gesture).

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Each state has its own variations on this. The New Jersey drivers' manual specifies a stop or slow signal as palm facing back. (This is one reason I dislike allowing regional questions.) –  Neil Fein Oct 1 '10 at 18:17
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...right turn..."Or left upper arm out straight and forearm up straight." A few years back I was using this signal while commuting to work and apparently the motorist behind me didn't know it. He thought I was flipping him off and he proceeded to chase me down, got out of his car and was coming after me at the next stop sign. Anyway, I biked off through a park as I didn't have time for an altercation at 7:30 in the morning... –  user313 Oct 1 '10 at 18:38
    
@wdypdx22 - A lot of motorists don't know what the left-arm-up signal means. Once a pedestrian tried to "correct" me when I was using the right-arm right-turn signal. –  Neil Fein Oct 1 '10 at 18:51
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@wdypdx22 - Yeah, I got it. And I chuckled! Contrary to popular opinion, I do have a sense of humor. :) But it reminded me of the story I mentioned. –  Neil Fein Oct 1 '10 at 19:04
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I've actually adopted a fingerbang (goo.gl/2ftk) tactic for my turns in order to avoid people thinking I'm flipping them off. First and middle finger pointed, thumb out. Seems to be working so far. –  Jack M. Oct 1 '10 at 21:36
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Being a motorcyclist, I stick to the standard hand signals using the left arm. At least in Arizona (other states may vary) this is listed as the official method for turn signaling, and even appears in the Driver License Manual.

  • Left arm straight out: Turning left.
  • Left arm bent pointing the hand straight up: Turning right.
  • Left arm bent pointing the hand straight down: Slowing down.

Looks like this (image credit):

alt text

If it appears that I'm dealing with a total moron (at a stop sign, for example) I will occasionally throw the right arm straight out to say that I'm turning right, but this is fairly rare.

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I've been making a closed hand and sticking out my thumb when making the right-turn signal lately. Among the people I ride with, left hand pointing up vs. right hand pointing out seems to be about 50/50. None of us has been hit by a car yet. I find that signalling left turns with a quick 'shake' of the wrist every few seconds, while holding out index-and-middle finger to work fairly well. I want to believe that the shaking makes it easier to see. –  Dennis Wurster Oct 4 '10 at 21:33
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The Right Turn and Stop signals (using the left hand) make sense when driving a car, since you can't stick your right hand out the window, but on a bike the right-arm/right-turn signal is probably more intuitive and therefore understandable.

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As a Brit coming to the States and trying to negotiate cycling not only the other side of the road but these variations of hand signals is a little daunting. In Uk left arm straight out is left turn right arm straight out is right turn and right arm (remember we are on the left side of the road) straight out but waving up and down is slowing or stop. The rude sign to taxi drivers of course is the left or right V sign ( the other way round to the peace sign man) I now know I am now too old to deal with he consequences of using this sign and while here in California I shall be the model of politeness as a gracious guest of your extra ordinary county. safe cycling all. Bill

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Welcome to Bicycles SE. This site isn't a typical forum. Stack Exchange sites function on a Q&A format. Since this post doesn't attempt to answer the original question, it should have been posted as a comment, either on the original question or another answer. –  jimirings May 14 '13 at 18:35
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