15 May 2008

Signalling your turn

How do you signal a turn?

There are two schools of thought on this. One is the canonical form with a right turn signaled by the left arm extended and the forearm pointing up. The more modern method of signaling has the cyclist pointing in the direction she intends to go.

The benefit of the second system is immediately apparent - it is unambiguous to both cars around and the cyclist who has to remember what signal to make when.

I just came to realize that the signals were developed for old fashioned cars (Model Ts and the like) which weren't as reliable as our cars. If your lights broke in an old car you'd have to use the old-fashioned right turn signal, as the modern one could not be seen.

Now that I understand the reason for the system it all makes more sense, I'm more comfortable in the world, and I'll continue to use the modern hand signals.

Graphic from the Frankenmuth Police Department.


Anonymous said...

I'm a new RSS subscriber, and I'm loving Cycle Chic! Just wanted to weigh in with something I heard at a Bicycle Commuting 101 workshop this weekend: the benefit of using the old signaling system is that when you're turning right, you still have your right hand free to break with, which will keep you from breaking only on the front (left) break and potentially flying over your handlebars. This may not be an issue for more experienced riders, but for newbies like me who haven't gotten the signal-break coordination down, it's something to consider.

Charlotte said...

That is a very good point, and one that I hadn't considered.

I think I must just signal well before my turn (or maybe I'm just going very slowly!). Braking hasn't come up as an issue yet.

Perhaps I will try to integrate both systems, depending on my needs. I am of the opinion that the modern system is more communicative - the old symbol could, to the distracted driver, look like you're waving to a friend.

Charlotte said...

Funniest thing happened on our bike date the other day. A woman was riding the other way and she raised her left arm to signal a right turn in the old fashioned way. My husband saw her and thought that she was waving to us! He turned to me to ask Do you know her???

We're still chuckling!

Who says bicyclists are unfriendly? :)

Marte said...

Thanks for clarifying this! A saw a man signaling in the old-fashioned way (turning right, but signaling with his left arm) and I was completely confused by it. I had never seen it before, and it didn;t make any sense to me.

Anonymous said...

The old fashioned signal is not in case the directional light in your model T blew out, it was because model Ts (and their like) didn't HAVE directional lights.

They first appeared on a production car in 1938, didn't become an expected feature until after WWII and didn't become legally required until even after that.

I remember a time when hand signals by car drivers were not only still used but something you had to demonstrate knowledge of to get a driver's license; and I'm not that old (my mother is still young enough to do interstate road trips on her own).

P.S. Front brake levers on bicycles used to be on the right, where they should be for righties (and are in the sensible world), but in America they were intentionally moved to the left to make them "less dangerous." Of course back then the rear brake (in America) was almost always foot operated and being able to lock up and skid the rear wheel (thus failing to stop) remains the American standard for brake effectiveness.

We can be really, really weird about bikes here.

Paige said...

We have to know the "old" hand signals to get a driver's license in Oregon. I use the old signals when bicycling here. They're not confusing to me, so it doesn't take any thought, and most of the time I am riding to the right of a motor vehicle, so I feel that it's better to gesture towards them, rather than parked cars on the right of me.

Lately I have felt like I looked a bit like I was waving, though, so I've started pointing, either left or up.

Dan D said...

I use the old signal for the same reason it was standard in a car, it's more visible. Assuming you're traveling on the right edge of the road, both oncoming (left turning) and overtaking traffic are better positioned to see the left side than the right, especially if I don't get my arm out quite straight.

And I had my bike shop reverse the brakes during initial set-up. I'd much rather have the front (stronger) brake under better control and away from my signalling hand.

Paul said...

I never use the old signal, and I urge my cycling students not to use it. The right arm is perfectly visible from everywhere. I've noticed that some cyclists think the right side of a person is somehow invisible. It isn't, and a cyclist is quite a bit narrower than a car, and you can see both turn signals on a car.

Drivers - and other cyclists - can easily see your right side and more. After all, road signs are even farther to the right.

When cyclists use the "old" right turn signal, it's often almost invisible, because the rider is leaning forward (grasping the bar) and consequently the arm is at an angle. It often looks as though they're pointing to something ahead.

The "new" signal is visible, emphatic, and clear. Your intent is obvious. And you're not going fast, so there's little or no risk of going over the bars. If you have that fear, briefly interrupt your signal to slow down a little, or, better yet, slow to a manageable speed before you have to signal. In fact, you'll probably be going faster when you're turning left.

The old signal was devised for drivers. There were no turn signals on cars back then. Drivers had to use hand signals, and the only place to signal was from the left side window. Let's face it, a driver couldn't exactly slide over to the passenger side, roll down the right side window, signal, and maintain control. Cyclists don't have that problem.

Just make sure that you actually use signals! Communication with other road users is essential. It allows others to make their on-road decisions, shows cooperation, and is good for the reputation of cyclists.

Paige said...

Paul - Those seem like reasonable reasons. You are assuming everyone is using the same style of bike, though. I sit completely upright on mine, and so don't have any of the angle or forward propulsion problems. I also prefer to use my left hand so that I can keep my right hand on my rear brake. In case of a sudden need to stop, I can use my stronger, more agile hand to skid to a stop (without flopping over my handlebars, as I might if I did the same with my left hand/front brake).

Sounds like we each have methods that work for us, though, so horray!

Nick said...

Strictly old style for me. (car style) keeps a hand on rear brake, and gives a chance for more flair. one finger up for most situations. black power solute, "grab a shooting star"-into black power solute. waggle hand like applause for the deaf. sticking right arm out is so english.

Rupert said...

The other reason for bicyclists using the old "car" left arm signals is that those signals are also used by motorcyclists, scooter riders etc ...

Front (strong) brake and accelerator are on the right, so a motorcyclist can maintain better control approaching a turn (either maintaining speed and/or covering the break) while signalling with the left arm.

Even with indicators on my Vespa, I've gotten into the habit on main roads, main intersections, of using both indicator and hand signal.

I think you're probably safe on a bicycle using either ... the main thing is to signal.

Unknown said...

I am still learning the signalling moves. Thanks for the info!