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Your vehicle is equipped with various lights and warning devices to allow you to communicate with drivers and pedestrians on the road. Turn signals allow you to visually warn other drivers when you’re taking a turn or changing lanes, while your brake lights will warn the driver behind you that you are slowing down or about to stop. 

Having the ability to communicate your intent to other drivers is essential to your safety and the safety of others. But what if your turn signal or brake light fails while you’re on the road? 

No problem—you can go old school and use driving hand signals. In this article, we’ll list all the common hand turn signals for car drivers, as well as tips for using them properly.

driver about to use the hand turn signal
Turn signals visually warn other drivers that you’re changing or turning lanes.

What are the Most Common Hand Turn Signals for Driving?

Legal Hand Turn Signals

When turning, you should always give the proper signal. This is what signal lights and turn signaling are for. In case your turn signals malfunction, use these centuries-old car hand signals instead.

driver performing right turn hand signal

Right Turn Hand Signal

The correct hand signal to indicate a right turn is to extend your left arm outside the window and bend your elbow so that your arm forms a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your fingers are extended, with your palm facing front.

driver performing left turn hand signal

Left Turn Hand Signal

To indicate a left turn while driving, simply extend your left arm outside the window and past your side mirror, pointing directly to the left. Make sure that your fingers are extended and pointing in the same direction.

Just a reminder: before you attempt to put your arm out, examine your rear through the side mirror to make sure that there are no approaching vehicles.

driver performing stop or slowing down hand signal

Stopping or Slowing Down

If your brake light is broken, let tailing drivers know that you’re coming to a stop by putting your arm out of the window and angling your forearm downward, with your palm facing the rear.

Is it legal to use hand turn signals? Absolutely. These three hand signals are recognized under the Uniform Vehicle Code, which state laws conform to. But apart from these three, there’s another hand turn signal that some people use to inform or allow drivers from the rear to pass or overtake. 

The admission to pass hand signal is done by extending the left arm outside with palm facing forward. With the forearm angled 90 degrees like the right turn hand signal, swing it back and forth or in a circular clockwise motion.

Car Hand Signals vs Motorcycle Hand Signals

Since motorcycle riders can easily use both arms unlike car or truck drivers, the hand turn signals for turning in a car and on a motorcycle can vary. For example, the right turn hand signal of a cyclist or motorcycle rider may take the form of an extended right arm instead of a 90-degree upward-folded left arm. In addition, there are over a dozen motorcycle hand signals that motorcyclists use and some of them require the use of arm motions, finger pointing and movements, and even their legs as well.

Tips for Performing Proper Hand Signals When Driving

Correctly performing driving hand signals is crucial for road safety. Here are some tips:

Exaggerate your arm’s movements and observe proper positioning.

It is important to make big movements whenever you’re performing hand turn signals when driving. The reason for this is because your distance from the drivers behind you can vary and speed may also play a factor. For other drivers to clearly see your hand movement or position, exaggerate the movement and extend your hand, with your elbow on top of the window frame.

Signal at least 100 feet before making a maneuver.

Similar to using your turn signal light, state laws require the driver to use hand signals a hundred feet before making a turn or changing lanes. Some states require the driver to initiate a hand signal 200 feet before making a move. The same goes for motorcyclists and bicyclists who want to signal their intent to vehicle drivers.

Study motorcycle hand signals.

Apart from learning the three basic hand turn signals for driving in a vehicle, it’s best to study and recognize motorcycle hand signals as well. Motorcyclists typically change direction more frequently than cars, which could mean there is less time to process their hand signals. It is therefore important to familiarize yourself with their signals so that you know what to do when driving behind or near one.

Prioritize your safety.

Before you extend your arm out, examine your rear for approaching motorcycles or cars using your side and rear view mirrors. Slow down as you approach your turn and hold your arm in position until you’ve completed your maneuver.

A Brief History of Turn Signals

Turn indicators or signal lights became standard in cars in the 1950s. However, drivers have been signaling each other on the road for much longer than that. Back in the days when automotive technology was still limited, drivers, riders, and cyclists used their hands and arms to point to the direction they were heading. Since there was no other way to warn other drivers when making a turn, people used to make hand turn signals by extending their arms past the door frame and making gestures to signal nearby drivers.

The development of signaling devices started in the late 1900s when Percy Douglas-Hamilton patented a pair of hands (one attached to each side of a car) that could be illuminated to indicate a turn. A few years later, American-Canadian film actress Florence Lawrence invented auto-signaling arms that pointed left or right at the push of a button. She also happened to invent one of the earliest brake signal systems that featured a stop sign flipping up from the rear bumper.

It is believed that the Protex Safety Signal Company debuted the first flashing signal lights in 1920. By 1939, Buick became the first car manufacturer to make turn signal lights a standard factory feature on all of its cars.

Since then, roads have become a safer and more pedestrian-friendly place.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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