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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!".

locked by Gary.Ray May 23 '17 at 17:41

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  • 3
    Just yell. Cars aren't soundproof. – Stephen Touset Jun 27 '12 at 12:42
  • 10
    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
  • 7
    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 '14 at 15:12
  • scrunch your neck so your head is between your shoulders and clutch your throat with one hand (with a stricken look on your face). It will usually get a laugh and goes a long way toward defusing anger. – user28677 Aug 12 '16 at 17:16

11 Answers 11

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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".

  • 1
    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
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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.

  • 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
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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.

6

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
  • It looks quite similar to "throw the goat" which is a metal (music) thing. – Criggie Mar 26 '16 at 0:23
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    @Criggie: Not if you do it correctly. – Jon Ericson Mar 26 '16 at 1:17
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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.

  • 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. – Stu 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
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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.

2

If they beep, you can just give a thumbs-up as if to say "yeah, that was justified".

  • Dunno... with fast moving objects, a thumb can be mistaken for another finger. I'd go with an open hand, as in a Hello wave, instead :) – nogasbiker Aug 12 '16 at 20:46
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Complementing @BSO rider response: here in Brazil a simple "thumbs up" sign means that you agree with the driver that's not their fault and you just mean say sorry.

Another way is raise your hand and make a face expression like "it's my fault". This works too, like this:

it's my fault, sorry

2

I'm not so sure about "I'm sorry", but the gesture for the related "I'm sorry for you" is simply to pass hundreds of cars that are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

If you're sorry frequently, it means you have some kind of problem that causes you to carry out actions that you didn't plan, or which have consequences that you didn't forsee. Fix that problem. Do things deliberately and own them. Correctly predict their results and own them also. Consequently, don't be sorry. Then when you're not sorry, you don't require any gesture to express it: you just do in order to achieve a result, the result occurs, and you don't regret anything.

When you're on your bike mingling with traffic, you can't afford to be taking unintentional actions, or poorly predicting the results of intentional actions. "I'm sorry" won't cut it when there are serious negative consequences.

What does "I'm sorry" really mean in traffic? Usually this: "I regret that someone else had to take an action to avert a disaster that would otherwise have been caused by what I did." It's vastly more important not to have this occur than to have a well researched and rehearsed gesture for the accompanying sentiment of regret.

1

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.

  • 3
    +1 But they may think you've suddenly realised you left the oven on... – Stu Pegg Jun 28 '12 at 15:25
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I accidentally cut someone off today. He looked at me as he passed me, and I immediately and instinctively just raised my left arm, bent at the elbow, fingers straight up and together, and mouthed "I'm sorry." I was so surprised by my automatic response that I googled "hand gesture for I'm sorry" and found this listing. I wonder if anyone else has just done that automatically, not that we intentionally cut people off!

  • 1
    Did the driver offer any reaction, positive or negative? – nogasbiker Aug 12 '16 at 20:47

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