Driving and Recognizing Hand Signals

Driving hand signals

Many drivers will find themselves in a situation where they themselves or someone they are sharing the road with will need to use hand signals.  Brake lights and turn signals help keep everyone aware and safe on the road, but sometimes they go out on a vehicle. Bicyclists and motorcyclists also share the road and more commonly use hand signals. Knowing how to use and recognize these signals will help keep everyone on the road in better communication and prevent collisions and accidents.

There are three basic hand signals that mimic the three basic light uses on a vehicle; turning left, turning right, and stopping. These signals are always done with the left hand whether it is a driver, bicyclist, or motorcycle driver.

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Turning Left

When turning left, the proper hand signal is to stick the arm straight out of the vehicle. Some people will do two fingers to signal the turn so others on the road do not consider this as a nonchalant action. The hand signal is taught as the hand placed vertically, to make sure the intent is clear.

Turning Right

When wanting to turn right, the left arm is extended out the window and held at a 90-degree angle. This is especially handy for drivers because they are unable to stick a hand or arm out of the right or passenger side of the vehicle. The hand is flat and fingers straight up.


When stopping, it is important to let anyone behind you on the road know to avoid them running into you. For drivers, the arm is extended down at an angle with the palm facing backward with a bend in the elbow to get over the car window frame. For bicyclists and motorcyclists, the arm is usually straight and extended outward with the palm facing backward.

To stay safe, do not rely on the stopping signal alone. It is important to also glance over the shoulder or a rear-view mirror to be sure the signal is noticed. While this is the universal sign for stopping, drivers are usually looking for brake lights on a car to indicate the action and may not notice the driver signaling.

For bicyclists and motorcyclists, the signals are more noticeable, but it is more dangerous to be hit. Make sure the signal is always very clear and then watch your surroundings. If the person behind you does not notice your signal or that you are stopping, there may be time and opportunities to move out of the way before being hit.

Remember the Signs

Learning the signs once for a driving test is not good enough for drivers and cyclists to be safe. Most drivers do not anticipate needing to use the signals, but it is important to know them if your lights go out. If you take up biking or buy a motorcycle, it is important to know the signs for sharing the road with vehicles. If not, you should still remember the hand signals so you can watch for them. These are taught in teen driving courses and should be remembered and observed just like turn signals.