When to Signal Whilst Driving

Signalling or indicating when driving is a simple safety and courtesy task that many of us forget to do once we have obtained that all important full drivers licence and have a little experience behind us.

Whether individuals simply forget to signal or they think it’s no longer important is an issue that can and frequently causes accidents. It’s for this reason that driving examiners are rather strict in regards to either the overuse or lack of signalling during a driving test. This section explains when to signal when driving and when not to signal. Useful for learner driver and experienced drivers.

Listed are frequently asked questions by learner drivers and experienced drivers wishing to take the driving test. The following examples are what the driving examiner expects of a candidate during the practical driving test.

Should you indicate when pulling away

Basically if anyone, even a pedestrian will benefit from seeing your signal, then the answer is yes. If there is no one around, then a signal is not necessary, although if you still decide to signal and no one will benefit, it has no consequences on the outcome of your driving test.

Car signalling tutorial

However, use caution. If you are ready to move off and you notice a vehicle approaching from the rear to pass you, do not indicate off if you intend on waiting for them to pass. The effect of this can cause the approaching vehicle to slow down or stop to let you pull away or to swerve around you. Such consequences will likely fail the driving test. Wait till the vehicle has passed and if all clear, signal if necessary. For the correct procedure on moving and signalling, see:

Should you indicate when parking up

Indicating when parking up essentially follow the same rules as when pulling away. If anyone will benefit, you must signal your intentions to park up. If no one will benefit, it is not necessary to indicate although you may still do if you wish.

Should you indicate when overtaking a cyclist

Deciding whether to indicate when overtaking a cyclist depends entirely on the situation. If for example you are driving and notice a cyclist ahead and there is oncoming traffic, it then depends on the width of the road. If the road is wide enough to overtake the cyclist safely, but may result in your car being positioned a little towards the centre of the road, a signal will benefit the oncoming traffic as it will show them your intentions of overtaking the cyclist.

Similarly, you may have oncoming vehicles but the road isn’t wide enough to overtake a cyclists. In this situation, you likely need to reduce speed drastically. A right signal may be of benefit to any vehicles following you, especially if they may not have noticed the cyclists.

Avoid indicating on each occasion that you’re overtaking a cyclist. This is more likely to cause confusion with drivers thinking you are making a turn at a junction or driveway. You must assess each situation and indicate only if you think the benefits of doing so will increase the safety of yourself and others. For further information on dealing with cyclists during driving lessons and the driving test, see:

Do you indicate around parked cars

Generally it is not necessary to indicate around parked cars. There can however be the occasional exception and again this is down to the particular situation.

If for example you are traveling along a narrow road, a vehicle is behind you, up ahead are parked cars on your side of the road but you need to wait behind the parked vehicles to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass. In this situation due to the road being very narrow, the vehicle behind may not see the parked cars and when you stop, they may interpret this as you parking up. Indicating to the right in this situation would be safer as it will provide the vehicle behind with a clear indication of your intentions.

Similarly to overtaking a cyclist, indicating around parked cars for the majority of the time is not required. Each situation must be assessed on a individual level and only signal if absolutely necessary.

Should you indicate when overtaking

Yes you must always indicate when overtaking another moving vehicle whether on a single carriageway or dual carriageway. It is not mandatory however to signal to the left once you have passed the vehicle to acknowledge your intention of moving back onto your side of the road – although you may do so regardless. For further information on the correct procedure for overtaking, see:

Should you indicate at a roundabout

If intending to turn left or right on the approach to a roundabout, you must indicate in the direction you intend to take. If following the road straight at a roundabout, you should not indicate. If turning right or going straight, you must apply the left indicator just after the exit which is directly before the one you are taking. Upon leaving roundabouts, ensure all signals have terminated.

Should you indicate at a mini roundabout

Yes you must indicate on the approach to a mini roundabout just the same as a standard roundabout. The difference with a mini roundabout however is you do not need to provide the secondary exit signal as mini roundabouts are too small for this. See:

Should you signal during the turn in the road / 3 point turn

No there is no need to signal during the turn in the road. If there is a vehicle, cyclist or pedestrian that may be affected by you performing this manoeuvre, you will need to wait until it is clear. Therefor there will never be a need to indicate.

Should you signal during the reverse around a corner

As you are attempting this manoeuvre, you will drive a short distance past the left turn you intend on reversing into. Just as parking up, you may need to signal to other road users your intention of stopping the car. Generally elsewhere during the manoeuvre, there isn’t usually a need to signal.

Should you signal when parallel parking

During the driving test, the examiner will ask that you park up behind the vehicle that you will be parallel parking on. As this is essentially parking up on the left, you may need to signal to the left at this time as described above. Other than this, there shouldn’t be any other reason to indicate during this manoeuvre.

Indicating when merging

Whilst building up speed down a dual carriageway or motorway slip road, you should indicate to the right approximately half way down the slip road and once you have merged with traffic on the carriageway, cancel your signal.

Indicating when changing lanes

Whether on a motorway, dual carriageway or in a one-way-system in a city or town, you must indicate your intention to change lane if other vehicles are present.

Should you indicate to leave a motorway or dual carriageway

Dual carriageways and motorways display markers in the form of 3 dashes (300 yards), 3 dashes (200 yards) and 1 dash (100 yards) from the exit junction. You must indicate at the 300 yard marker.

How far in advance should you signal before making a turn

When driving in residential areas you should signal around 30 meters (100 feet) in advance of making a right or left turn. This is assuming there are no other turns on the same side of the road before the turn you intend on taking, else you will need to signal after this turn. For high speed roads this distance increases. 70 mph dual carriageways for instance, signalling should start from around 275 meters (900 feet) from your exit.

Use of signals

A surprising amount of driving tests are failed due to the overuse, lack of or incorrect use of signals. Even what might appear a minor issue such as forgetting to cancel a signal after exiting a roundabout can easily fail a driving test.

Whilst learning to drive, there are times that a signal must be applied such as at junctions for example. Knowing when these times are along with the appropriate timings for applying signals is learnt reasonably easily with a driving instructor.

There are other situations for the correct use of signals that can take some time to master for learner drivers as it requires the ability to read the road ahead, assess any given situation and to decide if a signal is necessary, such as passing cyclists for example. This guide on when to signal when driving should help learner drivers and also experienced drivers intending on taking the UK driving test to understand the correct use of signals.

When must you indicate

Whilst driving and during a driving test it is compulsory to indicate at junctions, roundabouts, left and right turns and whilst overtaking another moving vehicle. Other conditions may apply, all of which are explained in this section.

Do You Have to Indicate if No One is Around?

Put simply, yes! The simple fact of the matter is that you never know for sure if no one is around. You could be taking a left or right turn for example and a pedestrian who you didn’t see is about to cross the road at that junction. They would probably assume you’re not turning since you didn’t indicate.

Tutorials related to indicators / signals

27 thoughts on “When to Signal Whilst Driving”

  1. Polli

    I had a debate with a friend about, If it is compulsory to indicate at round abouts or traffic lights if there is no other traffic around I.e cars, cyclist etc?

  2. That’s a good question. Most of the Highway Code is general advice, you tend to know the difference between a rule and advice by the way it written. So a rule would be ‘You must’ rather than ‘You should’. As such, there’s not a specific rule that states you must indicate at a roundabout whether there’s other traffic or not.

    However, it doesn’t mean that it’s not an offence. If an incident occurred due to a lack indicating, then it certainly wouldn’t do the driver any favours. Perhaps that pedestrian that you didn’t see decides to cross the road you’re turning into simply because you didn’t apply a signal?

    Indicating is as much to help those you cannot see just as much as those you can. You could for instance be looking at a penalty of ‘Driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users’ which will see 3 to 9 penalty points.

  3. Julia

    Do you have to indicate if there are no other cars about

  4. John Moylan

    when turning left at a junction which is busy and it is in the 1950.s .You don’t have indicators ,what is the proper hand signal

  5. Allan c

    If your at a set of lights and in a lane that only allows you to turn left and you have no other option do you have to indicate?

  6. Hello Allen,
    If you’re in a dedicated lane, then no, you do not need to indicate.

  7. Luke Mao

    When I want to join from the left lane to the right lane, when should I start to indicate? If I don’t think there is a safe gap to merge or there is a lot of cars on the left lane, should I just do nothing and keep on driving in the left lane?

  8. Hello Luke,
    You only indicate once you have completed all safety observational checks and that you are certain it is safe to complete the manoeuvre. If it’s not safe to access the right lane, don’t indicate and stay in the left lane. If this is in reference to a driving test, then the examiner will alter the route accordingly. If you are on the independent section of the test, then it doesn’t matter if you go the wrong direction, just make sure you do it safely.

  9. Peter

    Might as well remove the indicators altogether. No one uses them. Too lazy or can’t be bothered. The times I have waited at junction only to see a car turn off the road without any indication of their intention.

  10. I share your frustration Peter. It seems that common courtesy is becoming a thing of the past.

  11. Rupert

    I would do so on a driving test but it isn’t compulsory. When you do more advanced driving, such as in the Police, you are taught not to indicate if there is nobody around (when driving on blues lights you do signal however!!). If there is nobody that can benefit from your signal, there is no need to signal.

  12. Gordon

    That has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. What if you haven’t noticed another road user or pedestrian? The whole point of indicating is to let other people see what your intentions are, this is even more important if you don’t notice them, so you should always indicate!

  13. SteveB

    To complement ‘Driving Test Tips’ above:

    Rule 103 of The Highway Code (2015) says: ‘should always’, not ‘must always.’ It goes on to say: ‘use them to advise other road users before changing course or direction, stopping or moving off.’

    So, a signal is not obligatory and if used, it should be to advise others. If there is no one who would benefit from a signal, most advanced motorists would choose not to give one. I go further and consider the distance between another motorist and me. Can someone make use of the advice or am I just telling everyone what I am doing? I take the view that, if my move affects no one’s driving plan, I do not need to announce it. If my assessment of the speed and distance of other vehicles is accurate, my changing lane or turning in the road is obvious and it needs no fanfare.

    This is an opinion not shared by everyone, but I am an instructor and IAM examiner and I believe it can be persuasively argued.

  14. Hello Steve,
    ”So, a signal is not obligatory and if used, it should be to advise others.”
    I would say that on a professional driver level this is correct, but for the average driver, the issue is ‘to advise other road users’
    If you’re making a left turn for example and decide not to indicate because you see no one around. What about that pedestrian who you didn’t see and who decides to cross at the junction because you didn’t indicate?
    You could argue that your opinion is correct if every driver was trained to your level and maintained that skill through life.
    But in reality, would all drivers maintain that consistent level of observation whilst driving?

  15. Thomas Phillips

    So on a duel carriageway on the left hand side there are parked cars blocking lane 1 then after about 3-4 car lengths there is a turn off on the left. so you safely move into 2 once you passed the parked cars do you indicate to merge left into 1 or don’t as it may be seen as a misleading signal that you are exiting the carriageway.

  16. Hi Thomas,
    If the carriageway is busy, it’s important that you let other road users know that you are about to change direction and change lanes. I understand that the parked cars may cause you to alter your direction that you otherwise would not have done. As long as you cancel your signal as soon as you have completed the lane change, it should be fine. Could you perhaps wait until you have passed the left turn before changing back into lane one?

  17. Sharon

    On our test route a left turn from traffic lights only enters onto a left lane which only goes onto a motorway so we have to get over into the right lane what do you suggest we do there because we cannot go on the motorway in the test so you have to indicate to inform other drivers you need to get over ? You have no choice?

  18. Sharon

    When you are parked up on the left stationary and the traffic behind you is queueing or moving very slowly in a queue can you indicate left your intention that you want to move out and wait for someone to let you out? I know the risk is indicating left on a busy road of fast moving traffic may result in them thinking you may not have seen them and therefore there is the potential of making them swerve timing is important but realistically in queueing traffic you could be there all day if you don’t indicate you want to move out?

  19. Hi Sharon.
    Yes, exactly as you said; on a busy road it’s best not to indicate until a suitable gap in the traffic arises. In terms of slow moving traffic, yes it would be perfectly acceptable to indicate to show your intentions for moving out from the parked space.

  20. It is legal to change lanes providing the lane line is not solid, though the left exit to the motorway would have been signposted before you entered the lane.

  21. Sharon

    Thanks but the point is the feeder lane from the left turn onto the dual carriageway only goes into the left lane and it is a short run til you get to the roundabout so you have to indicate your intention to get into the middle lane even if there is no gap in the traffic otherwise you could get stuck in the left lane and motorway exit only.

  22. Hi Sharon,
    Ok, so you’re entering a dual carriageway from a slip road. In that case yes it’s perfectly fine to indicate and it’s what you should do if you require changing lanes away from the dedicated lane that you’re in. It doesn’t sound like a very well planned road layout.

  23. David

    In reply to Polli.

    I failed my HGV test as I was signalling too much and confusing motorists, mainly when there was an adjacent junction and I was passing a stationary vehicle 🙁

  24. Ollie

    Hi,
    One thing I was just debating with someone. If you are going down a busy road with alot of parked cars, if you have to pull in slightly to allow an on coming car to come down the road, do you have to indicate when doing this or do you just pull in to the gap to allow them past and carry on? Many thanks

  25. Hi Ollie,
    You wouldn’t indicate left as this would give the impression that you are parking up and may end up causing more problems as the car behind you may end up trying to go round you. Just as you’re pulling in, you may want to consider indicating right to let the car behind know that you intend on pulling out again.

    You don’t always need to indicate at all though. If it’s quite obvious to you and the car behind that you’re pulling in to give way to an oncoming car, then there’s no need to indicate at all. However, sometimes on a narrow road, you need to pull in almost inline with the parked car and this can be mistaken for you parking up, so in this situation it would be beneficial to signal to the right to let the car behind know your intentions. It really depends on each situation that you’re in.

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