Communicating with other road users

On the road, you’ll need to use signals to let other road users know what you’re planning to do. It’s important that you understand the signals, both so you know how to use them and so you know what to do when you see someone else using them.

You must use signals to tell other road users when you’re changing course or direction, stopping or moving off. However, you will not always need to use signals: if there are no other road users around you (for example, if you’re driving late at night), it’s not essential to signal when you’re turning or using a roundabout. If you’re not sure whether you need to signal, it’s best to give a signal just in case.

Signals for turning

Some road users, especially cyclists and horse riders, may use arm signals to show that they’re going to turn, slow down or stop.

Drivers usually use their vehicle’s direction indicators to show when they’re going to turn or pull up at the side of the road.

  • Be careful to use your indicators in good time to warn other road users what you’re going to do, but not so early that it could confuse others.
  • Make sure your indicators are cancelled as soon as possible after you’ve turned – if they do not cancel automatically, switch them off yourself.

Your position on the road will also help road users to understand what you’re doing. Move to the correct position on the road in good time; for example, moving towards the centre of the road if you’re going to turn right, at the same time as using your indicators. Make sure you use the MSM/PSL routine.

Warning signals

You must only use the horn when your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users that you’re there.

Unless another vehicle is putting you in danger, you must not use your horn

  • while your car is not moving
  • when you’re driving in a built-up area between 11pm and 7am.

You can also flash your headlights to warn other road users that you’re there: this can be useful where the horn might not be heard or at a time when the horn should not be used.

Drivers might sound their horn or use flashing headlights to give other messages, such as thanking you for letting them pass or warning you of a fault on your vehicle.

If someone uses a signal incorrectly, before you act on the signal

  • think carefully about what the signal could mean
  • decide whether the signal was meant for you.

Use hazard warning lights to warn road users when you’re obstructing traffic, such as

  • when you’ve broken down
  • if you have to slow down quickly on a motorway or dual carriageway because of a hazard ahead – only use them long enough to warn the driver behind you.

You must not use hazard warning lights to excuse stopping in a restricted area, such as on double yellow lines.

See The Highway Code (GOV.UK) for information on signals used by other road users.

Co-operating with other road users

The roads in the UK’s towns and cities can be very busy so it’s vital to co-operate with other road users to help keep traffic flowing and to avoid incidents. Always scan the road ahead to gather information about your route.

Remember that not all road users have to follow the same rules: drivers of large vehicles or vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists will do some things differently to car drivers. For example, when turning left, a large vehicle may first swing out to the right-hand side of the road to make the turn. Allow these road users plenty of space.

Look out for other road users and try to predict what they’re likely to do. This is especially important for vulnerable road users, such as

  • cyclists and motorcyclists, who may look over their shoulder, showing they might be about to move out or turn
  • children, who may run into the road
  • the elderly, who may not be aware of approaching traffic because of poor eyesight or hearing
  • horse riders, whose horse is likely to be frightened if you pass noisily, suddenly or too fast.

Pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allow at least 2 metres of space. Feral or semi feral ponies found in areas such as the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor require the same consideration as ridden horses when approaching or passing.

This video by the British Horse Society and FirstCar Media shows you how to pass horses safely.

Leave at least 1.5 metres when overtaking cyclists at speeds of up to 30mph, and even more space when overtaking at higher speeds.

You can learn more about overtaking cyclists by watching the video below.

While you’re driving in a stream of traffic

  • remember to keep checking the traffic ahead of you, behind you and, if necessary, beside you
  • keep a safe separation distance between you and the vehicle in front
  • anticipate problems so that you can slow down in good time.

Driving without care, attention and consideration for other road users is an offence for which you could be given penalty points, which could lead to you losing your licence. See GOV.UK for more information on penalty points given for driving offences.

Emergency vehicles

If you hear or see an emergency vehicle, try to keep out of its way so it can get past you safely. Take any reasonable action you can to help it get through, but you must not break the law.

Watch the video below for more information about helping emergency vehicles get past.

Overtaking on the left

You should not overtake other vehicles on the left unless the traffic is moving in queues and the queue on your right is moving more slowly than the queue you’re in.

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