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