Editorial “Let’s Re-Think and Reduce, Excess Hand Signals”
The following “hot potato” editorial may not represent the opinions of other SledMagazine.com /Motoneiges.ca administrators, columnists or readers.
Hand signals began at an earlier, simpler time in the history of our sport. In the early days trails through the woods were very narrow, often requiring sleds to pull over in order for oncoming traffic to pass. For whoever yielded the right of way first, it was helpful to know how many sleds were coming, so it would be known when it would be safe to once again proceed. Speeds were much slower, sleds were much lighter and taking a hand off the bars for a signal was helpful and harmless. It evolved from there and in my opinion; it’s time for it to evolve again.
Look how far we have come. Trial systems across the Snow Belt are wide enough for sleds to easily have space enough to travel safely in their own lane. Snowmobiles are safely traveling at higher speeds and are significantly heavier, requiring full attention and control.
Some snowmobile associations have begun to rethink the emphasis that has long been perpetuated regarding the use of hand signals. However, we still find the urging of hand signals in manufactures dated safety brochures or in the safety courses for beginners and our youngest riders. You can usually find the topic of hand signals near the pages that talk about long scarf safety, having spare spark plugs in your suit pockets and kneeling (posting as it was called) being an effective riding position.
In my opinion, it is well past time to re-think, reduce and modernize our use of hand signals.
I’m not opposed to thoughtful, meaningful hand signals. I’m a frequent user of meaningful signals. I signal in advance of all road crossings; anytime I’m preparing to make a trailside stop and give alert signals to oncoming sleds of the presence of an upcoming groomer or other hazard, stuff like that. Other than signals of significance, I choose to keep both hands on the bar and offer oncoming riders the greatest safety of all, by staying on my side of the trail, ready and prepared for the unexpected.
In my travels throughout the Northeast, I continue to see fellow snowmobilers using excess or useless hand signals which are in my opinion are decreasing our mutual safety.
I see oncoming sleds in a row, each giving the notorious countdown. If I can see multiple sleds in a group and they can (hopefully) see several sleds in front of them, why in the world of common sense would each rider need to give me and each of member of my group a X#!G*sign? From beginning to end, that is often a significant distance of one handed control by multiple riders, maybe X2 if both groups were doing it.
How many times have you seen the rider who believes they are the last one in their group giving an all clear sign, when there is another group of riders behind them. Maybe a little less useless signing and a little more checking the mirror might be a good thing.
I often encounter snowmobilers coming in the opposite direction, giving me a sign that I don’t need, all while drifting closer to or into my lane. They are not making our situation safer; I’m already on my side. Two hands on the bars, on their side of the trail and in the most control possible, that’s what I need! That’s what we all need!
If we are each in the highest level of control and on our side, I do not care how many are coming behind the leader, or the next rider, or the next rider, or the rider who thinks they are last.
All I’m suggesting is that we take this sign thing to a higher level of safety and meaning.
Occasionally I meet a hot shot, not totally in control coming into a mutual corner. The first thing he or she does after a look of obvious surprise, is to take one hand off the bars. Just when their attention and control would be greatly appreciated elsewhere, they choose to reduce safety and increase hazard, all due to outdated habit. I can already see that they are not in total control, how does it help for either of us to go one handed?
I see hand signals being given in the worst situations, corners, soft snow trails and icy rutted up trails when control is at a premium. We’re doing it out of habit, with no particular purpose or benefit.
I saw a tour group of novice riders once (they’re everywhere), who evidently had the fear of hand signals pumped into them at the rental or tour group briefing. Traveling close together and barely in nervous control they each removed more than half of the control they had to give me a sign. When the leader slowed they each piled in the next. Whiplash and tail light plastic everywhere. Perfect……..all in the name of safety. Come on people, we can all do better. Came up on another group one time parked 2 wide on a blind corner bridge taking pictures……AWESOME, but I digress!
Let’s start by looking closer at the signs being given by others and decide if they are unnecessary to the situation or making us both less safe than we could be.
The next time this automatic ritual enters your mind and glove, give it another thought and decide if what you are about to do is really of significant benefit or information.
Our modern snowmobiles are too heavy and too quick for the practice of one hand control to continue as it has in snowmobiling’s past.
More thinking, more control, greater safety and fewer meaningless signals. We can do it and we should!
That’s my opinion. Have a great ride.