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From turns to stops, these signals keep you safe and compliant, even if blinkers fail. Plus, expert tips & origins of this crucial driving language!

Where Did Hand Signals for Driving Originate?

Before the establishment of built-in blinkers, drivers used hand signals to indicate their intention to stop or make turns. In 1907 Percy Douglas Hamilton requested a patent for his hand-like indicators, which advanced to other inventions like Traffickers and then to the flash way 

directional signal in 1939. However, the NHTSA kept some significant signs of being observed hence its use in today’s world.

5 Hand Signals for Driving a Car

hand signals for driving


1. Right Turn Signal

When making the signal, your hand should point up with the palm facing forward, and before that, the arm should rest nicely on the windowsill. Ensure that other drivers can see your hands from a comfortable position before you make the maneuver.

The alternative right turn is keeping your hands straight with your index finger pointing right, but cyclists mainly use it since it uses the right arm, which is challenging for drivers.

2. Left Turn Signal

Before changing your lane from right to left, ensure your fingers are extended from your vehicle and past the side mirror to increase visibility. Ensure the hand is visible to other drivers without inconveniencing the right arm.

Retract your arm when you begin to make the safe maneuver, just like the signals won’t go off when you finish turning, keeping in mind that you are acting as one.

3. Intention to Stop or Slow Down

If you are about to stop and the signals aren’t functional, extend the left arm outside with your arm pointing down, ensuring that the fingers are extended with the palm on the rearward. It’s a universal sign to show your intention to stop, and you can begin by decelerating.

Your examiner may ask you to show the signal during the road test, and you should keep the hand in position until you come to a complete stop. Remember to check the mirrors before pulling your hand back to the car to see if the other driver has seen your intention.

4. Apology Signal

As a driver, you can make mistakes, and an apology is a courtesy. You can hold your two fingers in a V position to show some respect. The other driver can acknowledge the sign by replying with a thumbs-up sign to thank you.

5. Give Space for Another Driver to Overtake

If there’s a faster driver behind you, don’t think of keeping up with the pace since it may earn you a speeding ticket. You can let the driver overtake you by signaling using your hand. Extend your right hand with the palm facing forward; it should be below the shoulder as you wave forward and backward.

You can pull your hand back to the car when the other driver is close enough to pass you, and don’t reduce your speed drastically to allow them to pass.

What are Tips on Correct Hand Signaling When Driving

Driving is about practice and paying attention, and the same applies to hand signals. Here are some tips for practicing to ensure proper techniques on the road.

1. Use Obvious Movements

Your arm movements are essential to show your intentions on the road, and you shouldn’t force them. Stay relaxed when signaling to ensure everything goes well. Avoid making complex movements for your hands since a simple apparent move will deliver the message. Ensure your arm rests on the window frame with the elbow out.

2. Safety First

hand signals for driving usa


Checking your side and the rearview mirror is vital before making the hand signal to avoid hitting an oncoming cyclist or pedestrians. You will also save your hand from injury when behind the wheel.

Keeping off last-minute decisions on lane changing is vital in preventing accidents. Keep in mind that the road has all types of drivers, including those driving under the influence and distracted ones that make poor judgments, and you might collide with them.

3. Signal Early 

Like blinkers and electric signals, you should make your hand signals at least 100 feet before lane changing or making turns. You must make the signals at 200 feet from your intention in some states.

You must start making the signal at least 30m or 100 feet in New York for your safety as you reduce your speed.

However, if you signal too early, you may confuse drivers on your intention, especially at intersections, so ensure you are timely with the state rules on signaling.

4. Avoid Hand Signals at Night

When driving at night, you should ensure that your car lights are in good condition to avoid hand signals since there’s reduced visibility and lower chances that the other driver will see your intentions. I recommend you pull over if you notice a faulty light at night.

Reduced visibility at night is one of the significant causes of traffic deaths, and you must do everything to avoid hand signaling when driving.

When Should You Use Hand Signals?

It’s allowed to use hand signals when driving if your lights are broken to prevent accidents and fatalities when there are no electric signals hence the need to learn hand signaling. It will help minimize rear-end accidents when brake lights fail.

New York allows using hand signals when your brake and signal are faulty. Avoid using hand signals by ensuring that your car goes through a routine tune-up, where your mechanic will check all the lights and replace broken ones.

What are the 3 hand signals for driving?

The three hand signals for driving are:

  1. Left Turn Hand Signal: Extend your left arm straight out of the driver’s window, keeping it parallel to the ground.
  2. Right Turn Hand Signal: Extend your left arm straight out of the driver’s window, with your elbow bent, and point your hand to the sky.
  3. Stop Hand Signal: Extend your arm downwards with your palm facing backward

Are hand signals still commonly used in modern cars?

Hand signals are still legally required in many jurisdictions as a backup for communicating turns, stops, and slow-downs when a vehicle’s standard light signals are non-functional.

While they may not be commonly used in modern cars with functioning turn signals, they remain an important safety measure, especially in situations where verbal communication is impossible or when the vehicle’s lights fail. Despite their legal requirement, some people may not be familiar with or regularly use these hand signals in everyday driving

Are there any situations where hand signals are preferred over turn signals?

There are situations where hand signals are preferred over turn signals. For example, in some motorsports events, hand signals are used for passing and communication between drivers because turn signals may not be visible or may not be allowed. 

Additionally, hand signals are still legally required in many jurisdictions as a backup for communicating turns, stops, and slow-downs when a vehicle’s standard light signals are non-functional. In some cases, hand signals may also be preferred by motorcyclists who ride in groups or have damaged signal lights

Wrapping Up

Hand signals when driving are vital, especially when your car blinkers are broken. Learn to use the signals since blinkers breakdown may surprise you while on the road. Visit your mechanic regularly for a tune up which includes checking the lights.

When taking your driving lessons at Pierre Paul driving school, our friendly instructors will ensure you learn the essential hand signals. Please hurry up and check in for lessons at our school.