Living in a congested city like San Francisco exposes me to a lot of creative driving and parking techniques. But one that’s always irked me is when people double park and put their hazard lights on, as if that somehow makes it legit. I get that San Francisco is high on cars and low on parking spots. But blocking traffic so you can run in to get a scone? Come on!

I know hazard lights were created to, well, alert other drivers of hazards, but seeing them used for so many other purposes has me confused.

When is it actually okay to use hazard lights?

It turns out the answer is more complicated than I thought. Of course, if you’re parked and need assistance, it’s okay to turn them on. But what about when you’re driving? As with most laws, it varies by state.

In some states, you’re free to drive with your hazards as you see fit. In others, it’s not permitted at all. And some states permit it if there’s an emergency or a hazard on the road that you want to make other drivers aware of, like a rockslide.

One common exception, even in states that don’t otherwise allow hazards, is funeral processions. Some states also consider bad weather to be cause for hazard lights, but there’s debate as to whether this behavior should be encouraged.

Should you use your hazards in bad weather?

Though there’s no definitive right or wrong answer (unless it’s illegal in your state), there are some things to keep in mind. Your hazards may make you more visible in the rain or snow and alert other drivers that you’re traveling below the speed limit. But they may also put you at risk.

In some cars, turn signals are disabled when the hazards are turned on. And even if they work, it can be hard to distinguish a turn signal from a hazard light. If drivers can’t anticipate your next move, your accident risk could increase.

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Another issue with using your hazards is that it may cause confusion for other drivers. Most people expect to see hazards when there is a specific danger to look out for. If drivers are busy looking for a hazard or slowing down in anticipation of one, it means they may be taking their eyes of the road, as well as disrupting the flow of traffic.

Confusion, unnecessary slowdowns, bad weather … seems like a recipe for disaster or, at the very least, a traffic jam. Instead, turn on your low beams (high beams can cause glare in rain, snow, and fog) and avoid driving in bad weather whenever possible.

Hazard light laws by state

Curious whether your state allows you to drive with your hazard lights on? Check out these general rules (last updated on 8/19/13):

Permitted in all
or most cases

Not permitted

Permitted only in emergency or hazard situations

AlabamaAlaskaArizona
ConnecticutColorado (unless under 25 mph)Arkansas
Washington, DCFloridaCalifornia
GeorgiaHawaiiDelaware
KentuckyIllinoisIdaho
MichiganKansasIndiana
MississippiLouisianaIowa
MissouriMassachusettsMaine
NebraskaNevadaMaryland
New HampshireNew JerseyMinnesota
New YorkNew MexicoMontana
North CarolinaRhode IslandOhio
North DakotaOklahoma
OregonSouth Carolina
PennsylvaniaTennessee
South DakotaVirginia
TexasWashington
UtahWest Virginia
VermontWisconsin
Wyoming

Source: aaa.com

Double parking on the other hand? Not cool no matter where you live — even if you use your hazard lights.

Related links

Hazards lights may not be the best solution for driving the rain, but here are a few other suggestions.

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about Jessica

During her time as senior copywriter at Esurance, Jessica wrote about everything from automotive trends to insurance tips to driving dogs (it’s a thing!). In her free time, you can find Jessica hiking with her dog (who cannot drive), devouring a good mystery, or very slowly learning Spanish.