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What are the Different Driving Hand Signals?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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When driving, it is impossible to communicate verbally with other drivers who are also in their own cars, separated from you. For this reason, an entire lexicon of communication has cropped up that uses hand signals to convey specific meanings. While not a formal sign language, driving hand signals are one of the largest sets of gestures. Although driving hand signals differ from country to country, many are universal, at least within a region such as Europe or North America.

The most basic driving hand signals are those used to demonstrate that you are about to make a turn. These signals are used if you are in a car or truck that has broken turn lights, or if you’re on a vehicle like a bike that has no turn signals to begin with. In America and other right-hand drive countries the left hand is used, as the driver is on the left side of the vehicle, so this allows them to put their arm out of the window.

In countries that drive on the left side of the road the right hand is used. The arm being placed all the way out, at a straight angle, indicates preparing to turn in that direction: left in America, right in a place like Britain. The arm being placed out with the forearm pointed straight up with the elbow at a ninety-degree angle indicates preparing to turn in the opposite direction: right in America, left in a place like Britain. The arm being extended with the forearm pointed straight down with the elbow at a ninety-degree angle indicates a stop.

In addition to turning, there are a number of other important things that can be communicated to other drivers by using driving hand signals. For example, pointing out of the window and down towards the road with the pointer finger fully extended indicates that the oncoming driver should be on the lookout for an obstacle in the road. Placing one’s palm facing down and pushing it down slowly is a signal that the oncoming driver should reduce their speed. Placing one’s palm facing open directly at the oncoming driver indicates that the oncoming driver should stop. And moving one’s hand with the palm facing the side from one side to the other indicates that the car in front should pull over.

Other driving hand signals are more colloquial, both in this country and in others. For example, the shaka symbol, with the thumb and pinky fingers extended out from a clenched fist is often used as a symbol of thanks, for example to drivers who have let you pass them. The same symbol in parts of Europe is used as an acknowledgment from Volkswagen drivers to other Volkswagen drivers, as it creates a V and W with a single hand. The V hand signal, often associated with the victory or peace symbol serves a similar role in Australia, where it is used when passing a Valiant Charger.

Of course, there is another set of driving hand signals as well, used primarily to show disappointment or anger at another driver. These symbols, from the single digit thrown up, to a thumb against the teeth, are the same gestures of anger used widely throughout their respective cultures.

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Discussion Comments

By BabaB — On May 11, 2011

@George56 - Yes, it is a good idea to review the hand signals for driving. One never knows when they will be needed.

I had to chuckle when reading the article. As a young girl, I had the hand signals memorized from watching my parents, and I remember the cold and rain coming into the car when the window was opened.

By George56 — On Apr 26, 2011

This is a useful reminder as to what the hand signals for driving actually are, as I've never had to use them yet and I'm sure that if I ever have to I'll have forgotten most of them.

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