Hand signals for driving

The Hand Signals for Driving Explained: Left Turn, Right Turn, and Stop

by Zutobi · Updated Sep 07, 2023

All drivers must know and understand the hand signals that are used to communicate different actions like turning, changing lanes, or braking. You must be able to recognize the hand signals of other road users even if you do not need to use them yourself. You may also be required to show the 3 basic hand signals on the driving test.

Hand signals are used to communicate with other drivers in situations where your car lights malfunction. In addition, cyclists, skateboarders, and scooter-riders commonly use hand signals as they lack other signaling devices. Understanding hand signals is essential to keep yourself and others safe.

What are the Hand Signals for Driving?

There are 3 basic driver hand signals:

  • Slowing down or stopping – indicated by extending your arm downward with your palm facing backward
  • Left turn – indicated by an arm straight out through the window
  • Right turn – indicated by extending your arm at a 90° angle upwards

In this article, we’ll go through when and how to use them if need be. The hand signals are the same in all U.S. states.

Slow Down or Stop Hand Signal

driver using hand signal to slow down or stop

If your brake lights are functioning, they will light up and communicate to other drivers any time you press the brake pedal. Without brake lights, you can indicate that you are slowing down or stopping by extending your arm downward with your palm facing backward. Make sure your arm is clearly visible to other drivers behind you.

By using this hand signal you will give driver’s behind you time to adjust and slow down even if they are following closely behind. Due to how prevalent tailgating and rear-accidents are, warning other drivers of your intentions can be the difference between being in an accident or not.

Left Turn Hand Signal

driver using hand signal to turn left

You need to signal before changing lanes to the left or turning left. The left turn hand signal is indicated by an arm straight out through the window. Make sure you extend the arm far enough to be visible to other drivers but without striking any other vehicles or objects with your arm.

Right Turn Hand Signal

driver using hand signal to turn right

You need to signal before changing lanes to the right or turning right. The right turn hand signal is indicated by extending your arm at a 90° angle upwards with your palm facing forward.

As you change lanes to your right, you should be aware that vehicles that are already on your right side won’t be able to see the hand signals you make from your driver’s seat. Display immense caution before changing lanes or turning to the right when you use hand signals.

When Should Hand Signals Be Used?

Every US state has laws that require you to signal your intention(s) to others. This means you must use hand-signals when your turn indicators are malfunctioning or your signal lights are obscured by bright sunshine or vehicles (e.g. in a queue).

So in short, situations when your vehicle’s signals can’t be seen or don’t work.

Can You Replace Turn Signals With Hand Signals?

In general, using hand signals is a short-term solution that should only be used to transport your vehicle to a place where the problem can be solved or to handle an immediate situation. Do not rely on hand signals for an extended period as the chance of a crash will be far higher than normal.

the 3 basic hand signals for driving
The 3 hand signals for driving in the United States

Using Hand Signals at Night

At night the darkness will mean that nobody will be able to see hand signals. If your turn indicators or brake lights are not working you must not drive at night until they have been repaired.

Hand Signals for the Driving Test

On the driving test, your examiner will ask you to show one or several hand signals.

Before you go to the driving test, practice the hand signals at home until you know them by heart. Remember, you don’t want to fail your driving test or be the one causing an accident because you misunderstood another driver’s hand signals.

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