Many riders make an effort to warn other motorcyclists if they see a police presence, speed camera or radar unit, but is it legal and what is the best method of warning others?
The main methods seem to be some sort of hand gesture, flashing the headlights, phoning or texting mates, posting on social media or even blowing the horn.
However, there are problems with all these methods.
The main problem with hand gestures in Australia is that we ride on the left side of the road, so the closest and most visible hand is the right which can’t be taken off the throttle, unless you have cruise control or are riding downhill.
However, the hand gesture is the best method for alerting an approaching rider if you have just passed a patrol car or cop on the side of the road.
It is legal and, if you do it right, it’s safe and understood by most riders.
There are several gestures you can use.
The whirling single finger in the air indicates a police patrol car’s “disco lights”, the “one-wing flap” is an indication to slow down, or you can touch the top of your head with your palm, which is an American gesture.
Some also use a thumb-up to say the road ahead is clear and a thumb down to say there is some sort of hazard ahead, which could be the police.
Read about the various rider hand gestures.
Flashing your headlights
This is a universal warning, but it can be considered illegal by police in some states.
Australian Road Rules (2006) Section 218 say you can’t flash high beams within 200m of an approaching vehicle as it can startle other motorists.
Seems strange in the daytime that a 100-watt headlight bulb could be dazzling when there is a multi-billion-watt lightbulb in the sky!
However, it is definitely a problem at night.
There is no specific rule about not using high beam to warn of police ahead. (Note, there are such laws in some other countries. For example, the laws vary from state to state in the USA.)
Some police say this is preventing them from the execution of their duty and motorists have been fined in Queensland and NSW.
However, you could argue that you are assisting them in the execution of their duties – that is if their duty is to make our roads safer and slow down motorists at that particular “black spot” as determined by the positioning of a radar unit.
If police duties are to collect revenue, then, yes, you are preventing them from doing their tax-collecting “duty”.
One of the problems with using your headlight high beam is that it might not be seen by approaching riders.
Flashing your motorcycle headlights are not as effective as in cars as they are smaller.
Motorcycles also bounce up and down more than a car, so it is difficult to determine whether you’ve just been flashed or the bike hit a bump.
This is not widely accepted and people can misinterpret it as abusive.
In some countries, it is downright rude or even illegal.
However, I have certainly paid attention when I’ve been honked at and thankfully avoided inadvertently speeding past a hidden radar trap.
If you need to use the horn to alert someone, make it a courteous and short double-tap, rather than a long blast.
There are a lot of social media sites being set up for riding communities to share road conditions and police presence.
However, it requires riders to check in before a ride. It’s not really an immediate signal like a hand gesture or flashing light.
After passing a recent radar trap, my friend instantly pulled over and texted his mates who were still finishing their coffees and were due to ride past this way soon.
You could also phone colleagues you know who may be passing the area.
However, one reader noted that in Queensland it is an offence to use the internet or SMS to warn about traffic enforcement under the summary of offences act 2005 sect 24A.
There are also navigation apps that have crowd-sourced information about speed camera sites, such as the Australian-developed Speedo Minder or Waze.
They are not illegal to own or use. These apps also provide live and useful information about crashes, traffic snarls, etc.
One Melbourne man has gone a step further and created “Speed camera ahead” warning signs which can be printed out (CLICK HERE) and used to warn drivers.
You can keep a stack of them in your backpack!
If you decide to use them, be aware that you should not deface public or private property.
Consider it doing your public duty for safety and courtesy to fellow riders to warn other riders of a police presence or road hazard such as an oil spill, crash, gravel, etc.
It could hardly be considered illegal since it’s nothing more than what radio stations do when they alert motorists to crashes, traffic jams or speed camera locations.
Whatever method you choose, make sure you do it carefully, legally and courteously.
But for how long do you continue to alert approaching riders?
On a popular motorcycle riders with a lot of riders going past, you could stop fairly soon. Otherwise you might “spoil the fun” of riders by warning them too far in advance. You just have to hope the riders behind you will alert them in time.
But it’s a dilemma when you stop gesturing a warning. Have you just placed another rider in jeopardy of copping a fine?