Daily Traffic Alerts

Recognizing Hand Turn Signals and the Vehicles that Need Them


Have you ever been riding behind an unusual vehicle before and then the driver holds their hand out the window in a peculiar way before turning? If so, you’ve seen a traditional hand turn signal. It’s important that you know what these signals are when you’re on the road because many varieties of street-legal transportation utilize these signals.

Three Basic Hand Signals

There are three basic hand signals that drivers may use on the road. Many vehicles that have no electronic tail lights rely on these hand signals to indicate to other drivers that they are making turns or stopping. Often, you’ll see cyclists or drivers who are operating unusual vehicles like tractors or dune buggies using these hand signals.

The basic hand signals are actually required knowledge for driving tests in the US. However, it’s possible you’ve forgotten about them since your driver’s license test, so it’s good to have a refresher on what they mean.

Braking or Stopping

When a driver extends their hand out the window (or just out to the side if their vehicle has no window) angled downward, with their palm facing out, that is an indicator that they are slowing down or stopping. This is analogous to brake lights on a conventional vehicle and should indicate to other drivers that a stop is coming up.

Turn Signals

The other two basic hand signals are each for turning. A right turn signal is indicated by the left arm being held out and up at an angle, essentially creating an “L” shape. A left turn signal is indicated by the left arm being held out straight.

Importantly, it’s difficult to see the right turn signal when made by hand if you’re already to the right of the driver. Their vehicle may block your view of their turn signal. This is why it’s important to never ride in a vehicle’s blind spot. Likewise, drivers who are utilizing hand signals should be aware that their right turns and right lane changes should be made with extreme caution, as other drivers may not see their signals.

When to Use Hand Signals

You shouldn’t use hand signals unless there is no other option with the vehicle you are using. For instance, if your car has an electrical problem and your brake lights are not functioning properly, you should use hand signals while you transport the vehicle somewhere to have the brake lights repaired.

Notably, make sure you never drive a vehicle that requires hand signals at night. It’s incredibly difficult to see hand signals at night, and this makes such an endeavor very dangerous for yourself and those around you.

DJ Swanson

D.J. Swanson never planned to be a writer. His first job was working in his family’s autobody shop, but after studying English and journalism in college, he decided not to join the family business.

Instead, D.J. realized that he could make a difference by helping people learn how to maintain their cars and drive safely in challenging conditions. He is proud to share his lifelong knowledge of cars and driving here at Daily Traffic Alerts.

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