One of the dorkier parts of cycling has to be hand signals. You might as well be wearing elbow pads and yelling “Gangway for foot cycle!” as you navigate through a crowd of pedestrians on the way to a meeting of the local Philatelic Society (you’re the treasurer).
But even though hand signaling may seem dorky or antiquated, it can actually be a pretty big deal.
As I’ve mentioned before, clear communication with drivers keeps you safe on the road. Dorky or not, signaling your intention puts drivers on notice, and can actively prevent a crash from happening. Plus, should the worst happen, they can also protect you after the fact.
That’s why it’s important to know what’s expected of you in your state, as the rules regarding hand signals vary widely depending on how bike friendly your legislature has been. In Massachusetts, for instance, hand signals are no longer mandatory. In 2009, Massachusetts General Law Ch. 85 §11B was amended to allow cyclists to forego hand signals if performing them would interfere with the safe operation of their bike.
This change may seem like a step backwards for safe cycling, but in fact it was designed to protect us. Like most recent bike law updates, this statute is about what I like to call “passive protection” for bikers.
Take the case of a biker making a left turn. If she gets hit by a driver who was texting behind the wheel, the question becomes who was at fault. If it can be shown that she failed to signal, and the laws of her state mandate hand signals for cyclists, she could be found partially at fault under the principle of negligence per se.
On the other hand, if the law lets bicyclists skip signaling if it would be unsafe, her interests are protected. That’s why I consider such laws passive protection; they don’t necessarily prevent accidents, but they can provide an important benefit after the fact.
As a cyclist, you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to take advantage of both active and passive protection. This is why it’s vital to know how your state treats hand signals.
Look on your legislature’s website; if your state could be doing more to protect cyclist’s rights, get in touch with your local bike advocacy organization to find out how you can help make things better. When it comes down to it, the key to better bike law is in your hands.
Image via flickr