Traffic Control Hand Signals Everyone Should Know
Updated: Mar 26
As the world becomes more and more high-tech, it’s easy to forget about the low-tech information that could prevent accidents on our Pennsylvania highways. What happens if an automated traffic control device breaks in a work zone? How will you understand when to go, stop, turn, etc? Traffic control hand signals can be a lifesaver when technology fails in a busy work zone or when your car breaks down while driving.
How to Give Hand Signals
Whether you’re a driver or traffic control flagger, all hand signals should be given in the same manner. Always give signals with a flat hand. This is much easier for those around you to see and interpret versus a single pointed finger.
Hand and arm movements should be clear, decisive, and precise. A hand that can’t decide if it has an open palm or closed fist can be the difference between slowing and stopping-- and getting rear-ended.
Be aware of reduced visibility conditions when using traffic control hand signals. If it’s raining, snowing, or otherwise foggy, give the signal well in advance of the action’s climax.
Hand Signals from the Driver
There are three hand signals that all drivers should know: left turn, right turn, and stopping. In case of an emergency where a turn indicator light has gone out, they could be your only way of alerting other drivers to your plans. All signals are given out the driver’s side window, using the left arm.
To alert surrounding drivers that you’re taking a left hand turn, the arm should be placed out the window, perpendicular to the car and horizontal to the ground with an open flat palm. For a right hand turn, the driver should place the left arm out the window with the upper arm perpendicular to the car and horizontal to the ground. Then, the driver should raise an open flat palm upwards, so the shape of the arm resembles a large “L” with the middle finger pointing to the sky.
Last but not least, is the signal for slowing down or stopping. To create this hand signal, the driver should invert the right turn signal. Create a large “L” with the left arm, but point the tips of the fingers down towards the ground. Driver’s should always use these signals in full visibility of other drivers to the side and behind them in order to avoid crashes on the road.
Hand Signals from Cyclists
We can’t forget to share the road! Drivers must be courteous and respectful of other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. Unlike pedestrians, cyclists must follow the same road rules as drivers. These include using hand signals to warn others of turns, stops, and slowing down.
While this is useful for other cyclists that they may be riding with, it’s also crucial information for surrounding drivers. If a cyclist turns without warning, taking other drivers by surprise, you could be dealing with a very serious accident. Cyclists use almost the same hand signals as drivers, with one key difference. Because they don’t have the large space of a passenger side prior to the right hand window, cyclists are able to use both arms to signal turns.
A turn is signaled by raising the appropriate arm in the corresponding direction straight out, with palm flat-- like a miniature flag. You may also see a cyclist raise the left arm in an upwards “L” shape to signal a right-hand turn, however this is much less common. Slowing down or stopping is the same hand signal as in drivers.
Hand Signals from Traffic Control Flaggers
Traffic control flaggers have one big benefit that other road users do not-- assistance provided by signs. These and other low-tech devices are reliable in all but the worst weather to provide drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists with clear directions on what to do in a work zone. However, it’s important to learn other hand signals traffic control flaggers may use as well as signs or flags.
For left and right turns, an arm raised in the corresponding direction with a flat palm for ease of visibility will suffice and is easily understandable to all road users. You may also see a flagger use traffic control hand signals to tell you to back up or move forward when safe. This hand signal is a back and forth motion with both arms raised near the face for optimal visibility. The direction of the motion signals whether or not you should come forward or back up.
A flat palm facing your vehicle from one motion is the universal signal to stop. This should also be accompanied by a large red stop sign. Though rarely used, a line drawn across the neck or chest tells you to shut off your engine. If traffic control must be performed at night, hand signals will be used in combination with LED light wands to ensure ease of visibility and everyone’s safety.
Before heading out on the road, be sure to learn these hand signals to ensure the safety of everyone who uses our beautiful Pennsylvania roadways.