Warning: You May Be Using Your Hazard Lights Incorrectly

We may use our hazard lights for a variety of reasons, but only a couple of them are actually legit.

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.

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

Alabama Alaska Arizona
Connecticut Colorado (unless under 25 mph) Arkansas
Washington, DC Florida California
Georgia Hawaii Delaware
Kentucky Illinois Idaho
Michigan Kansas Indiana
Mississippi Louisiana Iowa
Missouri Massachusetts Maine
Nebraska Nevada Maryland
New Hampshire New Jersey Minnesota
New York New Mexico Montana
North Carolina Rhode Island Ohio
North Dakota Oklahoma
Oregon South Carolina
Pennsylvania Tennessee
South Dakota Virginia
Texas Washington
Utah West Virginia
Vermont Wisconsin
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.

50 Responses to “Warning: You May Be Using Your Hazard Lights Incorrectly”

  1. Ed Silva
    September 29, 2014 #

    YOUR VEHICLE SHOULD NEVER USE THE FLASHERS WHEN MOVING. THE LAWS IN STATES THAT ALLOW IT NEED TO BE UP DATED NOT TO. IN MOST NEW VEHICLES IF YOU HAVE YOUR HAZARDS GOING, YOUR BRAKE LIGHTS AND TURN SIGNALS DO NOT RESPOND. GOOD WAY TO BE HIT IN THE REAR AND YOU COULD BE GIVEN A TICKET FOR NOT USING YOUR BRAKE LIGHTS OR TURN SIGNALS.

    • Liz
      October 16, 2014 #

      Ed, your brake lights DO work when using flashers. If yours don't, it's time to go to the mechanic, stat!

  2. Jim Peel
    October 16, 2014 #

    When the traffic stops suddenly I put my hazard flashers on to hopefully notify drivers behind me that there is a stoppage. I turn them off when the traffic catches up to me and there is no chance of my being rear-ended.

  3. William E Schlueter
    October 21, 2014 #

    Flashers are very useful for sending a don't tail gate message. Have had some asocial creeps tailgaite even closer. In 50+years of driving I've had had at least 3 female drivers follow me off the road and park only to have them then realize they were using me as a guidance beacon. Rule of thumb 1-1 stay away from other veicles front and back.weschlueter@gmail

  4. William Boggs
    October 28, 2014 #

    All states should have a law requiring hazard lights to be used in funeral processions., In the daytime, I briefly flick on my headlights to let truckers know it is safe to move back into the lane. At night, briefly turning your lights off then back on serves the same purpose., Also turning on your flashers when you hear a siren or see an emergency vehicle that needs the way cleared can alert other drivers to be alert!

  5. Brandon Walsh
    November 2, 2014 #

    I was driving in Tennessee last year on the High way during a Rain Storm. Several Drivers were Driving with their Hazard Lights Flashing. It was Totally Distracting, with so many cars and all the Flashing Lights, you couldn't tell when the Brake Lights were coming on, or Turn Signals or What. Yes during Reduced Visibility, and when you are using your Windshield Wipers, your FULL HEADLIGHTS MUST BE ON, not just your Daytime Running Lights, because with Daytime Running Lights, your Tail Lights are Not on. But to put your Hazard Flashers on while traveling down the Road is a Horrendously Bad Idea. If you think Visibility is so bad someone will hit you with your Head Lights, and Tail Lights on, then you are free to Pull Off the Road and Park in a Safe place till you feel confidant again. Hazard Lights should Only be used when Parked to Indicate that YOU are a Hazard to the Free Flow Of Traffic! When in doubt, Read your States Drivers Manual. They are Free, or can be Read on line. Or look at your States High Way Traffic Codes at your Department of Transportation ! Drive Friendly !

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your email address will be kept private.