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  • Waiting for a ride

What’s In a Hand? (signal)


Most of us don’t use hand signals when we’re driving – we rely on our signal lights. Well, most of us. There are some drivers out there who love switching lanes without signalling. Maybe it adds to the thrill of freeway commuting for them.

But even if you conscientiously use your signal lights, there are still times when you need to use your hands to communicate with another driver. Like when your lights are not working, or when you really want to emphasize what your intention is, or when you want to acknowledge a courtesy. You know – saying “thank you”.

I encounter this situation every day when I drive carpool. Leaving San Francisco in the evening for the harrowing commute home, I have to enter the Bay Bridge from the car pool on-ramp into a lane of fast-moving traffic.  I always turn on my signal, check my mirror, and usually turn my head for look.  Most drivers let me in, and I acknowledge the courtesy with a wave and mouth a ‘thank you’.  I wonder why more drivers don’t say thanks – if its because they don’t know how or if they are uncomfortable engaging.   This link has some good tips on how to do it:  SAYING THANKS AT THE WHEEL   

And then there are drivers who are just aggressive and don’t care.  They won’t let you in and they would never say thank you.  Sometimes those drivers can provoke other sorts of hand signals, which starts getting into the area of road rage.  Tempting as it is, do not go there.  It can be dangerous.  Some years ago a truck aggressively pulled in front of me on a treacherous part of a single-lane roadway.  I was furious and made a rude hand signal.  To my shock, the guy (a big guy) stopped his truck, which blocked my progress on the one-lane road and started to get out.  I backed up – fast – and he got back in the truck and went on his way.  Scary.

My favorite hand signal came recently from a motorcycle driver.  Annoying as motorcycles can be, they are vulnerable out there on the freeways and those riders are seriously flirting with death every minute. We need to watch out for them as much as we can.  I always pull over a bit when they’re coming up alongside me, and on one commute last month, I did just that as a biker passed me.  He extended his left arm and I thought he was signaling a turn in front of me, but that was not what he meant.   I later learned that he was making a ‘biker’s wave”.  His arm smoothly extended to the left, the bike slightly tilted, and his gloved hand gave a slight downward shake.   I loved it.

I often think of this small gesture when I’m out there running late on a crowded freeway with hundreds of cars and people – all of us separate and yet together with the pressures and stresses of our lives.  It’s a reminder,  that sometimes that small wave, that bit of a nod can make all the difference.  A reminder that after all, we are all just trying to get there.

Motorcycle hand signal