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There are several conventions on how to signal properly

  • The simple method (straight left arm = left, straight right arm = right)
  • This answer on SE depicts a left-arm-only way of signalling (straight left arm = left, bent 90 up = right)

I'd like to know where should one use which singalling convention? I'm personally mostly concerned about Europe, but let's keep the question general.

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Both question linked by Neil are rather comprehensive for the US and UK. Wikipedia (though not the greatest resource) seems to have a nice, even if short, list of arm signals in various countries.

I live in Denmark, and while I couldn't find a trusted resource for it (there are a number of blog posts, though), I'd say the convention is to use straight left and right arm signals. And in reality they are something between a straight and a bent arm, so it only matters which arm is used.

Finally, Lithuanian traffic rules (note: it's in Lithuanian) indicate the following:

  • To turn right, use straight right arm or bent left arm
  • To turn left, use straight left arm or bent right arm
  • To stop, use either left or right arm straight up
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In short, turn or stop hand signals, historically come in two styles: British and American.

The British way is (sitting on the right side of the car):

  • to turn right, you stick your right arm straight out,
  • to turn left, you stick your right arm and rotat it counterclockwise,
  • to slow down or stop, you stick your right arm with the palm down and move it up and down.

On a moped, motorcycle or bicycle, the left turn signal is to stick the left arm straight out.

It used to be common (and legal), to signal turns with a whip. To slow down or stop, you'd hold your whip straight up and turn it counterclockwise. To turn left or right, you'd do the same thing and then tilt the whip to the side you were about to turn. This system was completely abandoned in the 1950s.

The American way is (sitting on the left side of the car):

  • to turn left, you stick your left arm straight out,
  • to turn right, you stick your left arm out and bend your elbow so your forearm is vertical upwards,
  • to slow down or stop, you stick your left arm out and bend your elbow so your forearm is vertical downwards.

On a moped, motorcycle or bicycle, you can also signal a right turn by sticking your right arm straight out. In most U.S. States, its not legal to drive a right-hand-drive vehicle if the turn signal lights aren't working, because you can't make the correct hand signals.

Japan (drives on the left) uses the American signals but with the right hand.

The British system is commonly used in the UK, Ireland, India (theoretically), and in most of the former British Empire, except New Zealand (Japan left turn signal = stop or slow).

The American system is commonly used in the USA, Canada and most of central and south America (sometimes theoretically).

In Europe, signalling varies country by country. Germany have not hand turn signals in Rule of Law and hand turn signals are forced for horse drawn carriages, bicycles and mopeds drivers by Case of Laws of Federal, or States, courts. If a car has broken turn or stop lights, you can not drive it. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia drivers use American-style hand signals only if they have no turn signal lights (trafficators are not allowed), or if they are broken. Stop / slow down signal is not fixed. Some states have different hand signals (American left turn signal = stop, and so on).

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    Welcome to the site! I edited your answer for language but I couldn't understand what you were saying about Germany, so I left that part. You seem to be saying that hand signals aren't required by law but then you say that they are, which confused me. – David Richerby Apr 27 '19 at 10:38
  • Also, as far as the British system goes, I think you're rather out of date. Although I know what it is, I have never in my life (41 years and thousands of miles on the roads) seen anyone use the "I'm slowing down or stopping" signal, and I've never seen anyone signal a left turn by rotating the right arm. – David Richerby Apr 27 '19 at 10:43
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Netherlands : The only thing I could find that you can be fined €25 if you do not signal with your arm or indicator. I haven't heard that anybody has been fined for not signalling, as most people do not trust other people enough to change direction without looking.

But if people do use hand signals they indeed just extend their arms, I really don't see any other way to signal anyway.

On a side note, I just discovered that I could be fined €35 if I don't lock my bike.....

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Germany: The law says "(1) Wer abbiegen will, muß dies rechtzeitig und deutlich ankündigen" / "(1) When one wants to turn one has to indicate this in time and in a clear way" §9 StVO.

I think that is a good law straight to the point. Everybody possibly affected has to be warned. In school I learned to use straight let or right arm. In practice I barely do this as much, this then again depends on the other traffic and road situation (on narrow roads of bad quality i keep my hands closer to the handlebar to keep my bike under control etc.)

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The left-arm-only way sounds to me like a way to signal if you're riding a motorcycle, since you can control your speed with your right hand.

I live in Belgium, and afaik you should indicate whenever it's safe to do. When you're riding down a road in bad condition, or in bad weather, it can be better to have both hands ready on the brakes.

Also, do realize that people don't need a bike-riding-license. Children can ride a bike far sooner than they can comprehend the purpose of signaling. And I don't think it would be wise to fine someone who didn't signal, unless he's really bringing other people in danger.

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    The one-handed signals are from the days of horse-drawn carriages (and later, cars, before turn signal lights became the norm). Driving on the right, your right arm is obscured by the vehicle, so you use your left arm only. – David Richerby Apr 27 '19 at 10:14
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In countries where you drive on the right side of the road (the US, and most European countries), you should signal with the left arm. That means:

  • Turning right: signal with a 90 degree bent left arm out to the side, pointing up.
  • Turning left: signal with a straight arm out to the side, straight out.

The reason to use the left arm is that your left brake is the front wheel. If you have to brake in an emergency situation, it's usually better to heavily use the rear brake. If you only use the front brake, there's more of a danger of going over your bars.

In countries such as the UK, where you drive on the left hand side of the road, brakes are reversed. So signal with the right arm.

Generally, pointing clears up some ambiguity compared to a bent arm, but is less safe for the cyclist when turning right (or left in the UK, etc.).

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    In the UK this would cause a lot of confusion - drivers expect an arm out (at all) to mean you are turning that way. Anything else would just not work. See the question @NeilFein linked to. – Rory Alsop Oct 21 '11 at 20:37
  • Actually, the reason that you "should" use your left arm is that these signals date back to the days of horse-drawn carriages and, later, motor vehicles before turn signal lights became common. You couldn't signal with your right arm, because it was obscured by the vehicle, so everything had to be done with the left. The same signals were then carried over to bicycles, even though a cyclist can perfectly well signal with either arm. – David Richerby Apr 27 '19 at 10:17

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