When to Signal While Driving

When driving on UK roads, it is important to use the appropriate signals to let other road users know what you plan to do next. Signalling correctly gives other road users enough time to react and take action if necessary, and not signalling at the right time could result in a serious accident. Therefore, knowing when to signal and when not to signal while driving is crucial.

In this article, we will take a look at the different types of signals that drivers can use on UK roads, when they should and shouldn’t be used, and how they play a role in the driving test.

Types of Signals on UK Roads

When behind the wheel, every road user you encounter, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, will rely on your signals to understand your intentions. By signalling correctly, you keep yourself and everyone else on the road safe. There are several ways to signal your intentions on UK roads, which include:

  1. Indicators: These are the most common signals used by drivers to indicate when they plan to change direction or position on the road. They are one of the most important tools that drivers have at their disposal.
  2. Brake Lights: When a driver uses their brake pedal, the red lights at the back of their vehicle light up to signal to other road users that they are slowing down. If a vehicle is following too closely, a driver can gently tap on the brake pedal to light up the brake lights (without significantly altering their speed) to tell the following driver to slow down and increase the space between the two vehicles.
  3. Road Position: A driver’s position on the road can be used to emphasise which direction they intend to take. For example, if a driver is turning onto a right-hand side road, they can position their car towards the right-hand side of their lane (as well as indicate). This informs other road users where they are headed and gives them space to move into position if they are turning the other way.
  4. Hazard Lights: When a driver turns on their hazard lights, all of the indicators on their car will turn on and light up. Hazard lights should be used sparingly and only in specific situations, such as when the driver’s car has broken down, is obstructing traffic, or to warn other road users of a serious hazard up ahead.
  5. Horn: The horn should only be used while driving to warn other road users that a driver is there. It should not be used when a car is stationary, or in a built-up area between 11 pm and 7 am.
  6. Headlights: The Highway Code states that drivers should only flash their headlights to warn other road users of their presence. Therefore, using headlights as a way of telling other drivers to go ahead can be dangerous, as it is not always clear if the way ahead is safe. Flashing headlights is a useful alternative to using the horn in situations where using the horn is discouraged.

Please note that if a driver responds to headlights without checking if it is safe to move, they can fail their driving test.

The Correct Procedure for Signalling

When a driver intends to change direction or position on the road, it is crucial to use the correct procedure: the MSM (Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre) routine.

For example, if a driver intends to turn left at the end of a junction, they need to check their mirrors to assess the position of traffic behind them. Is the driver behind too close? Are there any cyclists nearby? Once a driver is sure of the situation, they need to indicate to warn other road users that they intend to change direction. They must then manoeuvre their vehicle while checking their mirrors again.

When to signal

You should use your signals when:

  • Turning left or right
  • Changing lanes or overtaking
  • Merging with traffic
  • Pulling over or stopping
  • Starting off from a parked position

In these situations, signalling gives other road users a clear indication of your intentions, and helps them anticipate your next move. It also helps to reduce confusion and prevent accidents.

When not to signal

While signalling is important, there are also situations where it’s not necessary or even discouraged. These include:

  • When driving on a straight road with no junctions or turns
  • When driving on a roundabout (unless you’re exiting)
  • When passing a parked car or other obstruction on the road
  • When there’s no other traffic around to signal to

In these situations, signalling can be confusing or even misleading to other road users, and can lead to accidents. It’s important to use your judgement and only signal when it’s necessary and appropriate.

How signalling affects your driving test

If you’re preparing for your driving test, it’s important to know how signalling plays a role in the test. During the test, you’ll be assessed on your ability to use signals correctly and at the appropriate time. Failure to do so can result in a critical error, which could cause you to fail the test.

To pass your driving test, you should:

  • Use your indicators to signal your intentions when turning, changing lanes, or merging with traffic
  • Use your brake lights to warn other drivers when slowing down or stopping
  • Use your headlights to warn other drivers of your presence
  • Use your hazard lights sparingly and only in emergency situations
  • Use your horn only when necessary to warn other drivers of your presence

Remember, signalling is not a guarantee of safety, and you should always drive defensively and be aware of your surroundings.


Signalling is an important part of safe driving and can help prevent accidents and reduce confusion on the road. By using your signals correctly and at the appropriate time, you can communicate your intentions to other road users and help them anticipate your next move. However, it’s also important to use your judgement and only signal when it’s necessary and appropriate. By being aware of the types of signals available, and when to use them, you can be a safe and responsible driver on the road.

Posted on Mar 15, 2023 by Sam

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When to Signal While Driving


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