Back in the day learning hand signals used to be part of the driving test, presumably in case your electrics went on the blink. From memory waving an arm up and down meant ‘I am slowing to a halt’, rotating a hand in one direction meant – oh, I can’t remember because I never used them; but so prevalent were they that disabled drivers used to put a notice on the car boot saying ‘No Hand Signals.’
Nowadays, alongside these official signs have evolved a set of informal but generally understood hand signals. First, the thanks signal for when someone lets you out of a side road or allows you to pass an obstacle. This consists of a raised palm which, in order to be sure the other driver has seen it, should be left in place for at least a couple of seconds. (This presumably would not be encouraged by the DVLA as it means taking one hand off the steering wheel.) The usual response to such a gesture of thanks, should you choose to acknowledge it, is either to nod or raise one finger, the acknowledgement being briefer and less demonstrative than the original gesture of thanks. When signalling to let another driver go past I usually lower the window slightly and beckon with one finger; they then respond with a rather more hurried version of the thanks gesture as they whiz past.
Then there are gestures to pedestrians. When slowing or stopping to allow them to cross I usually make a to-and-fro gesture like a windscreen wiper, to which (if they are polite) they will respond with the standard thanks. This can be briefer than with motorists as I’m stationary and already looking in their direction.
Where a hand gesture may not be visible (eg if you’re in front of a car) the sudden-hazard-lights gambit may be employed. Again, though frowned on by the DVLA, this is universally understood and widely used; two or three blinks on and off with the hazard lights means thanks.
Not everyone is polite of course; some people sweep past after you’ve waited ages for them to pass an obstacle or charge out of a side-road without so much as making eye contact. And then there was the bizarre incident of the woman on Blackbird Road. Traffic was moving slowly, not because the car in front was a police car but because it was a busy time of day. There were two cars queuing to get out of a particular side road and the police car stopped to let one of them out. Since there was a gap in front of me I decided not to let the other car out, but she had other ideas. As I started to move forward she jerked out in front of me, causing me to stand on the brakes, and then made a series of furious gestures designed to indicate that I was in the wrong place and should have let her out, to which – I am happy to report – I responded with a gracious sweep of the arm (do please come out) ignoring her continued furious finger-jabs. The whole thing took far longer than if she’d waited for someone else to let her out.
Wherever you are, Blackbird Rd woman, I just want to say you were bang out of order.