Hand Turn Signals: Enhancing Safety on the Road

Every day, without even realizing it, we use hand signals and gestures to communicate our thoughts and intentions. Whether it’s waving to thank another driver or using emojis while texting, these universal signals play a crucial role in effective communication. But did you know that hand signals also have a significant impact on road safety?

Understanding Hand Turning Signals

Hand turning signals refer to the gestures that cyclists use to indicate their intentions to other drivers on the road. Since bicycles don’t come equipped with brake lights or turn signals, cyclists rely on hand signals to communicate when they plan to turn left, turn right, or come to a stop. However, it’s not just cyclists who use these signals. Motorists in cars, trucks, mopeds, and motorcycles can also use hand signals to enhance road safety.

Using proper signaling is essential while on the road. Failure to do so is a major cause of accidents in the United States. In fact, the United States has a law stating that hand signals are required for any motorist who does not have functioning signal lights.

Hand Turning Signals
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The History of Hand Turning Signals

Before cars had built-in blinkers, drivers relied on hand turning signals to communicate their intentions to other motorists. In 1907, Percy Douglas-Hamilton applied for a patent for a device that indicated the intended movements of vehicles. These lights were shaped like hands because most motorists were accustomed to reading hand signals.

Over the years, there were various inventions and patents aiming to introduce automated signaling mechanisms to automobiles. One such invention, the “Trafficator,” used large mechanical arms that swung out horizontally. However, the Trafficators did not stand the test of time. In 1939, Buick introduced factory-installed flashing turn signals as a safety feature, known as the “Flash-Way Directional Signal.”

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Although automatic turn signals quickly became popular in the automobile market, the three basic hand signals remained in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation (DoT) regulations.

The Three Hand Signals for Driving

To ensure effective communication on the road, every motorist and cyclist should familiarize themselves with the three main hand signals: left turn, right turn, and slowing down/stopping.

  • Left Turn: Extend your left arm out sideways with all your fingers extended. Alternatively, you can put your left arm out sideways and use your index finger to point left instead.

  • Right Turn: Indicating a right turn is a little trickier since drivers in the U.S. sit on the left side of the car. To signal a right turn, extend your left arm out sideways, bent upwards at a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Your hand should be pointing up with your palm facing forward.

  • Slowing Down/Stop: Extend your left arm out sideways and bend your arm downwards at a 90-degree angle, with your hand pointing down and your palm facing backward. Think of this as the reverse angle of the right turn signal.

Tips on Proper Hand Signal Technique

Engaging in proper hand signal technique is crucial for effective communication on the road. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Tip #1: Use obvious arm movements
Make big, obvious movements when signaling to those behind you. Extend your arm all the way out with your elbow out of the window frame to ensure visibility.

Tip #2: Signal 100 to 200 feet before turning or changing lanes
Most state laws require drivers to use blinkers or hand signals at least 100 feet before turning or changing lanes. Some states, like Indiana, even require a signal of at least 200 feet. Always check your state’s guidelines before hitting the road.

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Tip #3: Prioritize safety
Before extending your arm, check your rearview and side mirrors to avoid any potential hazards. Ensure your own safety and prevent accidents by making planned turns and avoiding last-minute decisions or lane changes.

Tip #4: Don’t use hand signals at night
Hand signals are not reliable at night due to low visibility. If your blinkers or brake lights aren’t working, it’s best to avoid driving at night until they are repaired. Cyclists, however, can use hand signals at night with caution by wearing reflective gear or using lights.

When Should You Use Hand Turn Signals?

Hand turn signals are not only important but also legally required in certain situations. Here are the scenarios when hand signals should be used:

When Your Lights Aren’t Working
If your blinkers or brake lights are malfunctioning or broken, you must use hand signals. Every U.S. state has rules requiring drivers to signal their intentions to others, so hand signals become crucial when lights fail.

When You’re Riding a Motorcycle or Bicycle
Motorcyclists and cyclists often rely on hand signals since their vehicles may not come equipped with built-in blinkers or brake lights. Using hand signals in traffic helps reduce the risk of accidents and ensures clear communication with other road users.

Motorcycle Hand Signals
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Stay safe on the road by familiarizing yourself with these essential hand signals and using them appropriately.


Q: Are hand turn signals only for cyclists?
A: No, hand turn signals are for all motorists, including drivers of cars, trucks, mopeds, and motorcycles. Proper signaling is crucial for effective communication and enhancing road safety.

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Q: Can I use hand signals at night?
A: Hand signals are not reliable at night due to low visibility. It is best to avoid driving at night if your blinkers or brake lights are not working. Cyclists should exercise caution and use reflective gear or lights if signaling at night.

Q: Are hand signals required by law?
A: Yes, hand signals are required when turning or changing lanes if your blinkers or brake lights are not functioning. Compliance with hand signals is crucial for preventing accidents and ensuring your safety on the road.


Knowing and using basic hand signals is an essential skill to prevent accidents and enhance road safety. By familiarizing yourself with the three main hand signals and practicing proper technique, you contribute to effective communication on the road. Remember to prioritize safety, stay up-to-date with vehicle maintenance, and comply with traffic laws to ensure a safe driving experience.

To learn more about car safety and driving skills, visit Car news. Stay informed and stay safe on the road!