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Hand Signals – Courtesy or Requirement?

September 2017 Issue of SnowTech Magazine – follow-up in “Feedback”

Last fall we talked about the use of hand signals when meeting on-coming riders to indicate how many riders are coming behind you. This is an unofficial practice in many riding areas, where riders will, as a courtesy, indicate how many more sleds are coming. Knowing that you have just met the last rider in their group is always good information to know. Pretty simple common sense.

While not a requirement, too many riders act like it IS a requirement and spend more time worrying about signalling you than maintaining control of their machine. They will be driving right down the middle of the trail coming at you, more worried about giving you a hand signal than they are about staying on their side of the trail.

This past winter a committee of American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA) members discussed the merits of continuing to use and teach the basic hand signals used by snowmobilers, of which there are seven accepted and recognized signals. Of these, using fingers to indicate how many riders are behind you is NOT one of them.

In fact, the International Association of Snowmobile Administrators (IASA) recently recommended the finger countdown signal indicating how many riders are behind you be eliminated from use. Instead, the accepted signal is using your thumb pointing backwards in a hitch-hiker motion, indicating there are sleds following. For the last rider in the group, the raised arm and hand with a clenched fist remains the accepted signal that you are the last rider of that group.

This way, you still know there are more riders coming at you, just not how many. When you get to the end of the group you know it and can continue on your merry way.

For most of us, what is considered to be the “official” form of signalling is of less importance than rider safety. Each rider will decide in each situation if there is value in indicating to on-coming traffic the number of riders behind you. It most certainly does not need to be done by every single rider in every group, and nobody should be getting upset if you do not signal them at all, except maybe if you are the last in line.

The key here is rider safety. As we discussed in our previous coverage of this subject, it is far more important for a rider to maintain control of their machine than it is to signal others. When meeting traffic you must be able to get over to the right side of the trail and not be going down the middle, or worse yet, be on the WRONG side of the trail!

Common sense should indicate a rider not remove their hand from the handlebars to signal others if they are a younger or inexperienced rider, if they are in a tight area or coming around a blind corner where vehicle control is critical, or if they are in a rough or sloped section of trail that could make one-handed operation unsafe. Common sense should dictate being able to maintain vehicle control is the priority in each circumstance. Signaling oncoming traffic is secondary, and by no means mandatory – it is simply a courtesy, if able to be done safely.

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