Learn Instructor Hand Signals To Quickly Improve Your Driving Skills

As an HPDE instructor, I can attest to the value of clear and easily understood hand signals. When sitting alongside an eager but unskilled student in a Spec Miata, one needs to be decisive and frank, since the cacophony inside the cabin rivals a Slayer concert. Slapping repeatedly on the dash to get them to brake isn’t good for the heart, and it doesn’t improve the student’s self-esteem.

So rather than go hoarse or go crazy, an avid student and a health-conscious instructor can communicate with set of identifiable hand signals. In all seriousness, though it might seem unnecessary to be so demanding about the quality of communication, being able to convey some fairly complicated techniques with hand gestures can make an afternoon exponentially more productive and much more fun.

A calm instructor requesting a rub of the brake at Pacific Raceways.

Sometimes, in the classroom, when a student asks about brake pressure and application, a bolder HPDE instructor might grab the student’s thumb and squeeze to simulate the rate at which pressure ought to be applied. When in the car, however, it’s simpler to use a closing hand. If the student can take notes from their peripheral vision and steer simultaneously, a coach can try miming this opening and closing of an outstretched hand to help convey where and how quickly the brakes should be applied and released.

Turning an open hand into a clenched fist at the appropriate rate can convey the appropriate rate of brake application, and releasing it at the right time might get them to transfer the weight earlier (trail-braking) and more assertively; teaching them something they would have taken months to realize on their own.

An experienced coach can relay a great deal of information just by the rate of opening/closing the hand.

Throttle application is no different. Opening the hand and turning it into a paddleboard, the throttle position can be mimicked with a bending wrist. Again, some range of movement is the idea here; an on-off switch won’t do anyone much good. Once the student gets an idea of what angle of a bent wrist or forearm corresponds to a pedal pressed flat to the floor, both parties can proceed a little more safely.

These intuitive directions can be to steering, too. Indicating apexes and desired track positions can be done with a simple point, and reminding the student to mind their mirrors can also be done this way. Without much said, a student can glean a great deal of information and the HPDE instructor can feel at ease in the passenger seat.

Of course, a proper communication system is a lifesaver in a noisy cockpit, and can get across a detailed point when gestures can’t. It’s certainly better than pounding the dash in panic.

 

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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