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Reading the Informal Language of Road Signals

…an interesting article:

The Bird, the Wave, and the Shaka: Reading the Informal Language of Road Signals

An old truckdriver, who hauled up and down the east coast before WWII, once told me that back then, among truckers–and motorists, too–one headlight flash meant “hello”, 2 flashes meant “slow down, road hazard up ahead”, and 3 flashes meant “slow down IMMEDIATELY.” (“3” being the universal symbol or number for danger).

After say, the '50’s, only truckers continued to use these signs, and now I don’t think hardly any of them do it. A problem started, I believe, when the optical horn (high beam flasher on the column) started becoming standard on U.S. cars. Now, when someone flashes their highs, you don’t know whether they mean get out of the way, or go ahead.

When someone lets me into traffic, I always, always, give a wave. If it’s night and the person is behind me, I turn on the dome light and wave so they can see it. When I let someone into traffic and they don’t even acknowledge, or anything, and it’s obvious they know I signaled them to go ahead, I catch up to them and give them a sarcastic “cheery” wave!

I always make th eeffort to communicate with other drivers when appropriate, whether it be via a hand signal, flashing lights, or whatever. Sadly, it seems few people but truckers understand the signals.

Yeah, Mountain, there’s all kinds of little things you can do to communicate. I always try to slow down around pedestrians–more than I have to. It’s like you’re saying to them, “Don’t worry, I see you.” Or if I stop on a dime at a stop sign, but I’m not actually into the intersection. If there’s anyone coming, especially a truck, I’ll back up a foot or 2, even though I’m not actually in the intersection. It prevents the person with the right of way from saying to themselves, “Geez, does that guy even SEE me?!!”

Sadly, it seems few people but truckers understand the signals.

And with that said when you give one of them your lights to let them know they are clear and okay to change lanes they rarely acknowledge it.

My experience has been that when I signal a truck driver that it is safe to change lanes, they almost always acnowledge by blinking the clearance lights.

That used to be the case when I would signal them but I have noticed over the years that it has dwindled to the point that it does not happen that much anymore. Maybe it is a regional thing, I do not know.

In the US it has been the standard for some time to offer one flash to indicate to the truck in front of you in the next lane it is safe to change lanes to the lane you are in. Two flashes is a thank you and three flashes or three horn blast is a warning. Today there are still old time drivers who remember and practice this. They are more likely to do it with other trucks as very few four wheel drivers have any knowledge of it. I still use it with trucks.

I’m a trucker, and I always flash the headlights to signal a passing truck to come back over, and I always blink the clearance lights out back to say “Thanks” when somebody signals me, whether it’s a truck or a car. But I’ve been trucking a while now, and even I have to admit that fewer and fewer trucks use these signals. A pet peeve: a lot of truckers now will blind you with the high beams to come over a lane instead of momentarily shutting the head lights off. Drives me nuts at night. Instant blindness and not much help at all. Must take too much effort to reach that on-off switch.

I appreciate your signaling. Since trucks no longer use a Signal Stat that is hose clamped onto the column but have a switch with the brights at their finger tips that would be easier for one to use that are not well versed in politeness on the road.