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Motorcycle safety is the most important thing to practice when you get on a motorcycle and strap on your helmet. Because they are unique vehicles different from your average four-door, four-wheeled automobile, there are unique safety guidelines that should be followed.
One of these important pieces of safe motorcycle driving etiquette is the extensive use of hand signals. These hand signals are used to warn fellow motorcycle drivers of impending road hazards, signal turns, and communicate important information to other drivers. It's just you and the road when you're on the back of a motorcycle, so you have to rely on quick-thinking and communication with other drivers to ensure your safety.
This signal is achieved by sticking your arm out at a right angle and keeping your arm straight down with your palm flat and facing directly behind you.
Employing this hand signal is useful for many scenarios, including a broken brake light, riding with a large group of motorcycles, or for warning the driver behind you that you will be coming to a stop ahead for a crossing or an intersection.
Signal the other drivers in your group that you will be entering a single file line by raising your arm into the arm and holding up your index finger.
This signal is useful for traveling with a group of other motorcycles that are approaching a narrow roadway which requires you to form a single file line to fit safely. Possible scenarios that may warrant this signal include passing over a narrow one-lane bridge, passing through a construction zone where one or more lanes of the highway are closed, or entering or exiting a highway via an on- or off-ramp.
Turn Signal On
In the event of a malfunctioning turn signal, this hand signal may be used as a substitute. Extend your arm in the direction that you wish to turn and open and close your hand with your fingers and your thumb extended, to signal the driver behind you that you will be making a turn.
This signal may be used in areas of low visibility or in bad weather to supplement your functioning turn signal, or on older motorcycle models that were produced before turn signals became standard in the 1970s.
Extend your arm straight out, with your palm facing downwards towards the road to signal that you are slowing down. Make a motion similar to a bird flapping its wings and bring your arm, still extended straight, down towards your body. In the event of sudden bad weather, you may need to signal to the driver behind you that you are slowing down as a safety precaution so they reduce their speed as well. It may also be used as a substitute for hazard lights if you need to be driving slowly, or to signal other motorcycles in your group to collectively slow their speed.
TIP: Hand signals should be done with the left hand when possible--this is the hand that drivers behind you are more likely to see, given that the steering wheel is on the left side of the car in the United States.
Much like the signal for single file, extend your arm straight in the air and hold up your index finger and your middle finger to signal a double file line to the other motorcyclists in your group. A double file line is for wider roadways, and is more orderly than riding in a staggered formation within the lanes of the highway.
A double file line is easier for long-distance highway driving and for situations where it would be easier to organize in an orderly formation when on the roadway.
Extend your arm out to the side and point to your gas tank with your index finger extended to signal that you need to stop for fuel. The gesture is fairly self-explanatory, and it is only useful when you are traveling with a group of other motorcycles.
In those cases, the group needs to be made aware if you are planning on stopping for fuel, so they can also stop as well. Communicating this will allow them to slow down and prepare to exit the highway for gas.
The signal for speeding up is executed by extending your arm to the side with your palm facing upwards towards the sky. You then move your arm in an upwards motion, in the opposite direction that you would move it for the slow down signal.
When driving with a group of motorcycles, this signal can be used to notify the other drivers to increase speed when entering a highway or in another scenario that would require an increase of speed.
Hazard in Roadway
One of the more important hand signals used by motorcycle drivers, this one is used to signify to other drivers that there is a dangerous hazard up ahead. For a hazard in the roadway that is on the left side, point with your left hand, and for a hazard on the right side, extend your right foot.
This signal can potentially signal danger up ahead and is important for warning other motorcyclists in your group, as well as other drivers on the road.
Used as a simple gesture of notifying other drivers in your group that it's time to stop for a refreshment on a long trip, this signal is nothing more than placing your thumb to your mouth with your fingers closed in a drinking motion.
This hand signal can be done by extending your arm outward at a 45 degree angle and pointing with your thumb and forefinger, then moving your arm in a sweeping motion from the back to the front to signify another driver to pass you and move in front.
If you are in a group of motorcyclists and want another to lead, this signal can be used, as well as if you are in the right lane of a highway and need to slow down and you want the driver behind you to pass.
With your open palm facing down, pat on the top of your head to signal an oncoming driver to turn off his highbeams. When driving on a dark road at night, many drivers use highbeams to see better. However, when they shine onto oncoming traffic, especially motorcyclists, the bright light can be dangerous and temporarily impair vision. This signal can let another driver know to turn them off when approaching oncoming motorcycles.
Extend your arm straight up with your palm facing forward to signal other drivers to follow. This hand signal may be used for a number of different situations, including leading another driver behind you, or signaling to another group of motorcycles that they are going to follow you.
To execute the hand signal for pulling off of the road, position your arm extended straight out like you are signaling for a turn, and then swing your forearm upwards towards your shoulder. Using this signal is mainly to notify a driver behind you that you will be leaving the roadway to either pull onto the shoulder of the highway or exit. It can also be used to signal other motorcyclists in your group to pull off as well.