Bicycle hand signal recommendations

From the Detroit Police Department Traffic Regulations handbook, 1929Michigan’s laws for hand signaling were based on people sitting in Model-Ts. They assume no one can see your right hand. They assume it’s important to signal all braking. They assume you don’t need your left hand for braking.

These are bad assumptions for cyclists. Many states have updated their laws, but Michigan has not.

257.648 Signals for stopping or turning; violation as civil infraction.
(3). When a signal is given by means of the hand and arm, the driver shall indicate his or her intention to stop or turn by extending his hand and arm from and beyond the left side of the vehicle and signal as follows:

(a) Left turn ….. hand and arm extended horizontally.

(b) Right turn ….. hand and arm extended upward.

(c) Stop or decrease speed ….. hand and arm extended downward.

Signaling Right Turns

That said, I don’t recommend cyclist follow Michigan law with respect to signaling right turns. Using an outstretched right hand is more readily understood by drivers and therefore is safer for cyclists. You’re basically pointing to where you intend on going. It makes sense. The upward hand looks like a wave, not a turn signal.

Other states (like Ohio) have updated their laws to recognize an extended right hand signal.

Signaling Braking

And similarly, I don’t recommend that cyclists signal their braking or decreased speed. The last thing cyclists should do when braking is to remove a hand from the handlebar. It makes your bike less stable and more difficult to steer. Signaling a stop in Michigan requires most cyclists to take one hand off their brakes — and their most effective brake at that. Not smart.

If you’re in a group ride and are braking suddenly or aggressively, it’s better to yell “braking.”

So until Michigan’s laws get updated to include safe and effective turn signaling for cyclists, it’s best to do what’s safest and what’s understood by other roads users. I’d rather make myself vulnerable to a traffic ticket than a traffic accident.

[These suggestions will be forwarded to Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety.]

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