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.

An orange, triangular cone sits in the middle of a snowy road.

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

ConnecticutColorado (unless under 25 mph)Arkansas
Washington, DCFloridaCalifornia
New HampshireNew JerseyMinnesota
New YorkNew MexicoMontana
North CarolinaRhode IslandOhio
North DakotaOklahoma
OregonSouth Carolina
South DakotaVirginia
UtahWest Virginia

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.

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

  1. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    Ed Silva
    September 29, 2014 #


    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      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!

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      January 31, 2015 #

      I can't agree. When tooling along at 65mph and traffic suddenly snarls to say, 15, those hazards help get those behind you to back off. A brake light is, well, 2 dimensional. It's on, it's off – but you can't tell the intensity of braking, or if one is stopped. The hazards help to distinguish braking from a "you better get on your brakes, now folks". Once a few cars pile up (no pun intended) behind you, now blocking your back (and the view you give), turn them off.
      I prefer cars with the amber turn signals in the rear. They flash (yellow…
      "caution"), but allow the brake light to work. Vehicles with red hazards to the rear? No brake light (some do "override" the hazard).

      • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
        bob roberts
        September 21, 2015 #

        Living overseas where this practice is common makes me a firm believer in the concept "hazards in a quick stop" situation. It saves countless rear-end collisions and it is a good practice in the concept you are driving defensively to help others on the road drive better. Here when there is a "fast brake" situation it's expected you will have hazards on and as soon as you are no longer the last car in the back the next driver will put his on and you turn your off.

      • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
        December 1, 2015 #

        That's utterly idiotic. The hazard lights are for when you are off the road and signaling for an emergency or distress. They are not intended as a brake check to keep people off your rear. You aren't doing it right and in fact are creating a hazard yourself by doing it. Stop doing it.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      Rural Mail Guy
      July 6, 2016 #

      Most vehicles new on the road today have Amber rear turn signals. Accept crappy american made pickups who still use the 3 wire ground / Turn-Brake/ Drive lights system. So if your vehicle is equipped with amber rear lights you will not have turn signals but your brakes lights will function properly on both sides and in the middle which all vehicles are now required to have a third brake light.

  2. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    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.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      December 1, 2015 #

      Stop doing that. You aren't the road monitor. Hazard lights are meant to show that you are experiencing a hazard and you are off the road to signal as much. Stop doing it. You are creating a hazard yourself by doing it.

  3. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    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

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      December 1, 2015 #

      What you are doing is wrong. It isn't your responsibility to keep people off your tail. If you are going so slow that you need to put on hazard lights to tell people to stop coming up on your rear, then you are in the wrong lane. Move all the over to the right and let fast traffic pass. You are a hazard by doing this.

    • Are you kidding me? How could someone "follow me off the road and park only to have them then realize they were using me as a guidance beacon"?? Who follows a moving, flashing light? There aren't any "guidance beacons" that move on the highway. Sounds like they were just unusually desperate to meet a new man. Or, they thought you were a tow truck or other road hazard vehicle.

  4. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    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. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    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 !

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      January 31, 2015 #

      Brandon, I agreed… until I was riding with buddies on motorcycles at noon on a summer day where it was darker than at night! The rain was coming down so hard we could not see a thing. (Helmet visors get cleared by wind (speed), which at 3-5 mph there isn't any. So its coming down where you can't see, then it is filming up on our visor making it like trying to see through a shower curtain.
      Why didn't we stop? No one could see! Parking on the side of the road would make us a speedbump target. We did eventually stop (on a toll road) at the next pullout that we could see.
      Hazards let us be 3 times the distance back from a car that we were following (assuming they could see better with wipers). If they were off we would have been a car lengths back… way too close even at 3mph.

    • Who turned on Random Capitalization on Your computer?

  6. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    December 30, 2014 #

    They are called Hazard Lights, not stopped lights! There is nothing in the wording or application of Hazard Light that says stopped; neither in language or automotive technology.
    Normal car lights (headlights or taillights) cannot be seen by others in certain driving conditions such as deep fog. Most cars are not equipped with fog lights (bright rear lights) like they are in Europe (UK, Scandinavia). Therefore, hazard lights fill this role.

    It is ridiculous to think that;
    • A car with hazards lights on is stopped, and if another driver cannot distinguish a stopped car from a moving car, then they need to exit the road.
    • One should either pull off the road or only run with normal lights on, and not use a perfectly good tool in order to BE SURE THAT YOU ARE SEEN!

    By the way, for those who advised to put your headlights on (low beam or high); we are having two separate conversations. In deep fog or rain, headlights are not for being seen, they are for seeing. Flashers can always be seen better than headlights. As far as headlights for seeing, drivers should not over-drive his sight-distance, which is a completely different matter, as hazards cannot assist with sight-distance.

    Despite the source, be it a blog, urban legend, or even the law, avoid Jedi Mind Tricks, and use your own best judgment to keep yourself and those around you safe.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      December 5, 2015 #

      Actually depending on what state you live in there is in fact specific wording stating that emergency lights means a vehicle is stopped. It does in fact present a danger to use them while in motion, not only do a very large percentage of vehicles using emergency lights can't also use turn signals of effectively signal that a vehicle is braking in bad weather, it also is incredibly distracting to human vision to have dozens upon dozens of flashing amber lights all at once. Telling people to use their own "best judgement" to decide what to do while operating a motor vehicle in traffic as opposed to doing what experts who have studied these issues is incredibly moronic. Thanks for encouraging unsafe behavior on already unsafe highways.

  7. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    February 1, 2015 #

    Parking lights are one of my issues – when you turn them on, the dash lights come on too. That inconveniently allows folks to drive without their headlights on well into the dark. If the dash lights did NOT come on, people would have to turn on their lights to read the dash. Much safer.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      February 7, 2015 #

      I agree with you, and I think that headlights should be used when ever wipers are needed.

  8. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    February 9, 2015 #

    I have used my flashers while moving – there have been times while driving during a storm when I have had to slow down to a crawl because I could barely see the car in front of me – I have put my flashers on so that cars behind me would slow down – once the rain lightened up and we could pick up our speed I would turn them off – or if I had to pull over because the visability was bad, I kept them on so I would be seen on the side of the road – I was told to use them to be seen or if you are driving less that 40 mph for some reason –

  9. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 29, 2015 #

    years ago when I did some work with the Red Cross – they advised in using their vehicles that if you had to go more than 10mph UNDER the speed limit that flashers should be activated – So in a 55mph zone once we went under 45 flashers should be on.

  10. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    June 4, 2015 #

    I'm a truck driver, so I spend a lot of time on the road. I've noticed that in North Carolina, where it is, apparently, legal to do so, a lot of people drive with their hazards on, and for no apparent reason. They'll be going down the road at normal speeds, in fine weather, no discernible emergency, blinking away for miles. I've seen young people doing it, male and female, so it's not an age or gender thing. I've not seen this behavior anywhere else. Why are people doing this? I'd love to hear from anyone who does this, or knows someone who does.

  11. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    July 25, 2015 #

    Hazard lights are to make you more visible, whether you are moving or not, in low visibility circumstances only, in my opinion.

    • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
      December 1, 2015 #

      Well, your opinion is ill founded and dangerous. Hazard lights are as they say they are, that you are a hazard and that you shouldn't be moving because you are in a hazard and need to signal that you are in a hazard, not be hazard beacon. Stop doing it.

      • Avatar for Jessica Guerin
        Kenyon Potter
        January 3, 2016 #

        Your replies to several of the commentors may be well-intentioned but in my view are misguided. If hazard lights were intended to be used only when parked, the law would clearly say so. In fact, hazard lights are intended for use at any time a driver is experiencing a hazard or an emergency. It does not matter if the vehicle is stopped or is moving so long as the vehicle is a hazard. As stated by other commentors, a good example is when the roadway has low visibility (e.g. dense fog or heavy rain) causing stopped or slow traffic and there is risk of a rear end collision or chain of collisions. Another example is loss of brakes in which event the driver should consider the hazard lights as well as the horn to alert other drivers.

  12. Avatar for Jessica Guerin
    April 5, 2016 #

    here's a good one for ya, a person on our street takes her granddaughters to school in the morning and picks them up after school, her house is about 50 feet from the bus stop (lol, really – I can't make this stuff up)…she pulls up to the end of our street, blocks people from coming and going and sits there for easily 10 to 15 minutes each day with her hazard lights on…when she is confronted by the disgruntled people who need to come and go, she yells out her car window at them that her "flashers" are on….lol, crazy, right? This is small town upstate NY…..isn't this against the law? She is NOT a schoolbus…..

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