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We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Hand signals make roads safer for all

July 1, 2013

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, June 28th 2013

Cyclists signal while crossing the Johnson Street Bridge. Hand signals are useful for all users of the road, including drivers and pedestrians, by increasing fellow road users' knowledge of your intentions.  Photograph by: ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist

Cyclists signal while crossing the Johnson Street Bridge. Hand signals are useful for all users of the road, including drivers and pedestrians, by increasing fellow road users’ knowledge of your intentions. Photograph by: ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist

Hand signals are a very effective way to communicate with other drivers, riders and pedestrians.

Before every driving road test, the candidate for a licence must demonstrate their use.

An outstretched left arm designates an intention to move left. When the arm is extended at a right angle, upwards out the driver’s window, it means the vehicle will move right. The same right-angle downward arm motion tells us the driver intends to slow or stop. Anyone who has ridden a bicycle knows the necessity of using hand signals to warn others of a change in direction.

Hand signals personalize the actions of the driver. The arm out the driver’s window means the driver really intends to turn. Vehicle signals are often left on by mistake and do not have the same effect as a hand signal. Any time we are reminded of the person behind the wheel of a vehicle, rather than an inanimate object going down the road, it’s a good thing.

Hand signals should be done before but not during the turn. Two-handed turns are still mandatory on any driving test and are a much safer way to negotiate a turn than a palming action, all too common amongst today’s drivers.

I have seen many an excellent driver avoid the pending disastrous actions of other drivers by using the arm extension. Professional drivers will often warn others going the same direction in the left lane of a person occupying a pedestrian crosswalk. Pedestrians leaving the curb are sometimes hidden from the view of a driver in that left lane. Seeing an outstretched arm is indeed out of the ordinary. It alerts drivers behind of a potential danger in the immediate foreground area.

Using a hand signal along with eye contact with another driver or pedestrian is very effective. A cab-driver friend of mine would not only use a hand signal when leaving the curb, but vault his torso out the driver window as he made eye contact with the approaching traffic, with the intention of getting them to allow him into the immediate travelled lane. There is no need to be so demonstrative. I have got the same polite accommodation from other drivers with simple eye contact.

Many drivers use a wave of the hand to direct activity at an intersection or in a parking lot. They are usually giving the right-of way to another. The right-of-way should only be given, not taken.

Drivers parked at the side of the road will often gesture to those following to pass by waving them on.

Pedestrians who want to cross the road at a crosswalk can help themselves and drivers by giving a hand signal. An extended pedestrian’s arm in the direction of intended travel is welcomed by drivers. When this action is combined with eye contact, it makes a world of difference to pedestrian-driver communication.

I like it when motorcycle riders use hand signals. Electric signals on most bikes do not cancel automatically. They are often flashing long after a turn or lane change is completed, giving the wrong information to vehicular and pedestrian traffic alike. Motorcycle signals are small and difficult to see in the bright sunlight. Good riders always use a hand signal for additional safety.

Hand gestures directed toward another driver to insult, threaten or intimidate are best ignored. Responding to such actions is juvenile and unproductive.

A smile and effective use of hand signals will get positive results. Try it — you’ll like it.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is the former Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas and a registered B.C. teacher.

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