Human Signals: NMA E-Newsletter #595

Some years ago, the NMA developed “7 Sensible Signals, A guide to better driver-to-driver communications.” Among the signals were the universal thumbs up, or A-OK sign as an indication of appreciation:

It is difficult to mistake the intent of that acknowledgment. Another sensible signal, still in use today, has often created law enforcement animosity:

We still receive the occasional report of a driver being ticketed for flashing his lights to warn those approaching from the other direction of a police cruiser parked ahead. Those charges typically get thrown out when challenged on First Amendment free speech grounds. And, of course, the danger ahead can sometimes be an accident, a road spill, or other potentially dangerous conditions that other drivers should be aware of for safety reasons.

The one sensible signal that sometimes created the opposite message than intended was, ironically, the Apology. The potential for misunderstanding is one of the reasons we have since retired 7 Sensible Signals:

Imagine having someone cut you off in traffic, only to flash the V sign. Rather than “I’m sorry,” many could easily interpret that as a victory sign, raising tensions. We don’t need more road-rage incidents.

Recently while clearing out some old files in preparation for our office relocation, we came across a letter written 25 years ago to the NMA about a motorist’s international experience with hand signals. His observations from 1995 were quite interesting:

I just returned from a trip to North Africa and learned about an additional signal that I like. While in Cairo (a city of 15 million people and 9 million vehicles), we had occasion to spend time in its traffic. Please keep in mind that there is virtually no traffic enforcement the electric signals blink, there are no speed limits, and one rarely sees a police car. The whole time we spent there, we saw the infamous international hand signal for irritation not once. We did see another signal, though.

“We saw drivers put their left hand out their window with thumb and little finger extended, and then waggle the hand. We inquired about the meaning of this gesture, and were informed that it meant, ‘think about what you’re doing.’ I am impressed with the civility of this gesture. The response was always of a similar acknowledging nature a wave or a toot of the horn, and never hostile.

You are, no doubt, part of a well-traveled readership. Tell us, what unusual motorist-to-motorist hand signals have you seen, domestically or internationally, in jest or anger, effectively executed or not? And if there is a tale attached to the episode, even better. We love good stories.

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