It's fair to say that a lot of people have a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to signalling. If I had a dollar for every time I've seen a road user change lanes or make a turn without signalling, I'd be writing this blog from my tropical beach pad (ha, I wish).
Indicating your intentions while using the road is a legal requirement because it's more than just politeness, it's a way of making traffic flow smoother ... and more safely.
There's one well-known hand signal that I use liberally – that's right, the friendly wave.
The laws covering signalling while cycling are a bit muddy, however. For example, under the "special rules", cyclists aren't required to signal that they're stopping. You need to do some diligent wading to interpret the rest of the rules as they apply to bicycles. One law seems to suggest that cyclists don't have to signal left turns, as they have no "direction indicator lights". Well, I've got a direction indicator hand, and I use it to signal left all the time.
As vulnerable road users, cyclists should always try to alert other vehicles of their intentions. But indicating while riding a bicycle is a lot more complicated than it is in a car, where the driver just has to flick a lever and then let the solenoid do its job. Some things to consider:
Loss of control. Signalling involves taking a hand off the handlebars, compromising stability and steering. If you're on a bumpy road, or going into a corner, or at risk of a pedestrian or vehicle suddenly moving in front of you – well, sometimes having control can be more important.
Loss of braking. Back in the day, bicycles had back-pedal brakes, meaning you could stop without using your hands. But on most of today's machines, taking a hand off the bars means significant loss of braking ability. And when you indicate with your right hand, you don't have the more effective front brakes at your disposal. This is especially tricky when going downhill.
Injury risk. Motor vehicles are advised to give bicycles at least a metre's space when overtaking, something that needs to become a law. So, stretching out an arm should carry no risk, yes? Don't believe it. Too many cars skim close enough to do serious damage to your "indicator". If you can, have a glance over your shoulder first. Another tactic - rather than extend your arm, indicate by pointing at the road surface next to you with a straight arm that's angled slightly away from your body.
Driver behaviour. I'm sure every motorist has flicked on an indicator, only to find another driver madly speeding up to cut off their intended lane change. This aggressive response to an indicator can be even worse if you're on a bike, with some motorists seeming to think that getting in front of a cyclist is a matter of life and death. Well, it can be. But not for the motorist.
I regularly deal with all the above situations when I'm out on the bike. Roundabouts are often the biggest challenge – a constant turning motion while anticipating that people might randomly pull out in front of you. Sometimes I'll give a quick, pre-emptive signal when heading into a tricky situation, then get my hands back on the bars in case evasive action is needed. Road positioning is another good way to show your intentions. I've even resorted to suggestive head movements.
But there are two situations where I see indicating as crucial for cyclists.
Changing lanes. If you've moving into the likely path of other vehicles, try to do the right thing. And if the person just behind you sees this and speeds up to get in front, you can swing into the space they've left behind them.
Pinch points. "Traffic calming devices" often do little to impede motor traffic – cars can just zoom right through the middle of them. Such drivers can be so focused on their clear line of travel that they don't realise the "road furniture" is going to squeeze a cyclist into their path. Signal in good time to let motorists know what's about to happen.
Lastly, there's one well-known hand signal that I use liberally – that's right, the friendly wave. From acknowledging courtesy to defusing tense situations, it's my favourite traffic calming device.
Do you signal whenever possible? Are there times when you think it's safer not to?