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.

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

  1. arch stanton
    August 31, 2013 #

    If you double park, your car is a hazard. You should put on your hazard lights if you are interested in decreasing the chances of it being hit while you are clearly at fault.

    It's not about avoiding a ticket.

  2. stuart redman
    September 3, 2013 #

    I love insurance and I love amerika

    • arch stanton
      September 3, 2013 #

      Living with things you aren't crazy about is a byproduct of the freedoms of America.

      Picayune motor laws as a differentiation as to whether you spell it with a "c" or a "k"…uhm, I don't think so. At least the states still have a say in this one – tends towards the "c" imo.

  3. Richard Roth
    September 19, 2013 #

    Driving down the road with your hazards on for no apparent reason is not legal and there is a lot of people in south Florida who do this. That is not what the hazards are for, If you are a hazardous driver then gt off the road and leave it to those who know how to drive safe.

    • lynn
      October 20, 2013 #

      If your wife is having a medical emergency…I hope you put your hazards on and take your wife to the hospital. Because an ambulance will not get her there any faster. R.N.

      • caw
        November 12, 2013 #

        And when he gets pulled over for having the lights on? Only put the flashers on IF you need to move past congested traffic otherwise leave them off and drive normally.

      • Waitingforasteroid
        November 14, 2013 #

        Lynn, After 30 years as an EMT, I have to say that is one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard a nurse say. It isn't about speed, but delivering emergency care to both the woman and the child. Not to mention having a distracted driver and a woman in pain sharing a drive is a great recipe for an accident or a bad joke. You forget about offering pre hospital advice and I'll refrain from badpan and sleeping pill analogies.

  4. Mike Guzman
    September 22, 2013 #

    I have driven a 18 Wheeler for 42 years. I turn on my "Hazard Lights" when I am climbing a hill or mountain at 15 mph less than the "Posted Speed Limit" on the road. I do this with the hope that other drivers will see my "Hazard Lights" and not strike the rear end of my semi-truck. I do this both day and night. With so many drivers either texting or talking on their cell phones while driving, I would like to make my semi-truck as visiable as possible to the vehicles approaching from the rear!!!

    • jay
      September 25, 2013 #

      Very responsible driving

    • Adam McCarthy
      October 3, 2013 #

      But that's a unwritten law in trucking. Your just trying to sound cool

      • Ilex
        March 18, 2014 #

        I also drive a semi-truck. Actually it's a Federal Motor Carrier regulation that you must remain in the right lane and use hazards when traveling 25 miles under the speed limit where the flow of traffic is not impaired. It's not an "unwritten law" or just a courtesy. In fact it's posted on some interstates in mountain areas. But needless to say, trucks are governed more by the FMCA than state laws.

    • David
      October 25, 2013 #

      When a truck driver passes a car on the left and wants to get back over in the right lane, is the proper thing for the car to do is flash their lights to tell the truck driver that's it's ok to get back over ?

      • Mark age 50
        November 29, 2013 #

        it's an unwritten courtesy of days of lore… I still do it. Typically the truck driver will flash his back to say thank you. Then again, some just truck on in the fast lane…

      • Rich
        April 2, 2014 #

        I think the proper etiquette is to momentarily turn your lights off. Nobody wants to get blinded by a flash of high beams in their mirror. Just sayin'

  5. TOM
    September 25, 2013 #

    Here in NYS the Thruway has signs alerting you to put on HAZARDS if you are driving slower than 45mpm. In Italy, on the autostradas, you put them on when you come upon a back-up that is really serious and you are alerting those behind you that YOU BETTER HIT THE BRAKES NOW! and be prepared to STOP IMMEDIATELY. Italy has this habit of building high-speed roads with blind-curves and hills that block your view until it's too late. Of course, Italian drivers only addd to it by speeding.
    Personally I use the HAZARDS whenever I feel it's needed. I'll worry about the ticket later if I live.

    • Frank
      September 26, 2013 #

      ditto – Use as needed

  6. Perry McDowell
    October 2, 2013 #

    Even without low visibility situations like blind turns, it is difficult for drivers to determine whether a car in the distance has its brake lights on because the driver is gently tapping them or has used them to stop. When traffic stops on the freeway, or at an exit, I turn mine on to let the cars behind me know that I am stopped and they need to start slowing NOW to avoid rear-ending me.

  7. Donna Dee
    October 3, 2013 #

    Those 200-plus car pile ups? They happen in fog. The yellow of the hazard lights travels much farther than taillights. Huge increase in visibility from the rear.If I am driving to conditions in fog those hazards go on immediately because there is always someone coming up from behind driving faster than visibility warrants, either because they know the road better or because they scorn to let weather slow them down.

  8. Rick Captain RedTyde Robinett
    October 20, 2013 #

    People who drive with hazards on are a menace. Period.

    • mo
      October 22, 2013 #

      Agreed. Hazards are for parking. If you are to scared to drive in bad weather park don't use hazards and keep going.

  9. Chris
    October 21, 2013 #

    I've spent many years living in many countries and this piece reminds me of Germany. In Germany, where high speeds are common, when cars slow down quickly for whatever reason, they turn on their hazards briefly until approaching cars behind them are aware or they have passed the hazard.

    It has certainly saved my hide from a nasty accident. I wish this was practiced here in the US.

    • Chadbag
      October 26, 2013 #

      Having lived in Germany for a few years on the economy, I do this now out if habit. I see other people do it as well.

      • Good Driver
        November 26, 2013 #

        I have never lived in Germany although I hope to some day. I do this out of habit also, seems like common sense. Also turn them on in school zones or when following a bus dropping kids off. Having driven commercial vehicles you learn that communication with other drivers is very important. If you drive a large vehicle that other drivers can't see around or through you need to make those behind you aware of danger ahead. Of course that doesn't mean they will heed your warning. Most likely they will just put on their turn signal (or not) and go flying around you only to have to slam on the brakes realizing then that you were trying to tell them something.

  10. janice wood
    October 25, 2013 #

    I am certainly appreciative of Truckers/trailer-towing vehicles that use Hazard Lights when crawling up steep +/- mountain passes, such as I-5's "Grapevine" or I-80's Donner Summit, especially in heavy rain, fog or snow. Sometimes you can't see them (as large as they are) due to sudden heavy downpours, road mist, sudden dips in the road that are filled with mountain runoffs. Also, I have had to use them late at night on a two-lane mountain road when my car started to lose power and my headlights suddenly died, and there was no space to turnout for miles due to the terraine. Really, really scarey!!!!!!

  11. Janice
    October 25, 2013 #

    Interstate 5 through the Sacramento Valley and San Juaquin Valley of central California has the TULE FOG that can cut visibility to ZERO in an instant!!!!! I once was following about a half to 3/4 miles behind a convoy of semi-truck/trailers when they all disapeared into the curtain of Tule Fog. When I got to that point in the road I suddenly could not see past the hood of my car nor the fog-line at the right side of the lane. Immidiatly put my HAZARD's on and slowed down until I could safely pull off.

  12. Monroe
    November 10, 2013 #

    Laughing at all the lame-brained states that think it's NEVER appropriate. Seriously? NEVER? Somehow I'm sure those laws are ignored by off-duty cops in their personal vehicles, every time they're in a hurry and don't want to obey any other traffic laws either!

  13. Betty
    December 1, 2013 #

    Hazard lights are a way to tell someone to stop riding your bumper. I will use them if someone is too close and I'm doing the speed limit. It's nicer than flicking them off!

  14. Melissa
    December 9, 2013 #

    It would worth getting a ticket to try to prevent some idiot moron who is texting to notice I have slowed down and not hit me.

  15. mary smith
    January 3, 2014 #

    As Traffic Officer in CA. People that put on their hazard lights while parking illegally only makes then easier to spot. As if it some how gives them permission to park in a red zone or tow away zone. then they come back to their car perplexed that they have a hefty parking ticket for being lazy and not finding legal parking. Never fails to amaze me.

  16. Jeri avnaim
    February 1, 2014 #

    Just happen to use my hazard lights last night in a situation where I could not pull into the driveway because of a 6-8 inches of snow and did not want to get stuck, cause I KNOW I will. so I was half on road and half in snow to have a somewhat traction to leave after picking up my daughter and it was night time on a side street. Just wanted other cars to know to be careful and go around me. Was that illegal? Just wanted to be safe and not get stuck. Should be a safety issue to use, not abuse it

  17. R. Herrington
    March 21, 2014 #

    You are mistaken, regarding one state: in Delaware it is MANDATORY to use your hazard flashers in a funeral procession. I was one of the funeral directors who sucessfully got this bill through the Legislature working with the Delaware Funeral Director's Association way back in 1998.

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