How to Use Hand Signals When Riding – Bicycling

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Sure, cyclists can protect themselves from aggressive drivers on a ride in a variety of ways: reflective clothing and flashing bike lights are some ways that come to mind. But with more new bike riders out on the roads—and with more drivers getting back into their vehicles—another key part of getting through your ride safely is communicating clearly with other commuters on the road.

Not only is it a courtesy to others and a safety measure for yourself, it is often the law for cyclists to signal to drivers when they are preparing to turn, slow, or stop. And because bicycles don’t (typically) come equipped with turn signals, this means you need to know the proper hand signals for letting drivers know which direction you’ll be going.

Learn More About Bike Laws In Your State

If you’re new to commuting by bike, here’s a quick guide to cycling hand signals to remember.

Basic Bike Hand Signals

Simplicity is best when trying to communicate quickly and effectively on the road, and cyclist hand signals are easy to learn. But be aware of some variation in local guidelines, cautions Kyle Wagenschutz, vice president of local innovation at PeopleForBikes. “Each state has the authority to set its own traffic laws,” he said. “Although these laws are largely the same between states, there are variances in hand signals between some states—mostly pertaining to the Right Turn indication.”

Keeping that in mind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has three primary motions that bike riders should use to indicate imminent changes in travel direction or speed:

When making a left turn: Fully extend your left arm out to the side, pointing with a finger if you’d like.

When making a right turn: Fully extend your right arm out to the side (preferred although not universally recognized legally in some states), or bend your left arm up at a right angle with your hand in a flat position (this motion is less commonly used but is sometimes the prescribed legal method—it depends on where you’re riding).

When slowing or stopping: Extend your left arm out at a right angle with your hand open, palm facing up behind you.

If you need a helpful visual, this video from the League of American Bicyclists demonstrates each of the signals above.

For those new to getting around on two wheels, it’s a good idea to bring your bike to an empty parking lot or a safe open riding space to practice steering with one hand as you use the other to signal; you may feel off balance at first, but practice makes perfect.

Other Hand Signals

Beyond those three basic motions, some additional hand signals exist so that cyclists can communicate with each other individually or in group ride settings. There are hand movements to indicate:

  • Road hazards ahead: point in the direction of the hazard and rotate your arm in circles.
  • Loose gravel: point your arm down at a 45-degree angle and wiggle your fingers.
  • Preparing to stop: place a fist or the back of your open hand on the small of your back.

These signals can vary, and they are a general courtesy to other riders, but they don’t necessarily apply to individuals traveling alone. What’s most important is nailing down the turning, slowing, and stopping motions mentioned earlier. However, whether you’re riding in a group or you’re out on your own, get in the habit of using hand signals to communicate your next move—it could be vital in preventing an accident.

“Our research shows that drivers and cyclists alike are both concerned about each other and their safety,” Wagenschutz said. “Everyone is responsible for knowing and following the rules of the road, regardless if they drive a car or ride a bike.”