Abusing hazard lights has become common. Make sure you’re not guilty of misusing your hazards by learning when it’s appropriate to use your flashing lights.

Hazard Lights Should Only Be Used to Indicate an Emergency

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car hazard lightsHazard lights, also known as “flashers,” are the blinking lights on the front and rear of a vehicle that indicate an emergency situation. Most vehicles have an easily accessible button—it usually has a red triangle design imprinted on it—near the steering wheel. This hazard button, when pressed, will turn these flashing lights on to warn other motorists that the driver or car is experiencing a problem and that they should be cautious.

At least that is what they’re supposed to be used for.

Proper Hazard Use

How often have you witnessed a car parked right outside a store with its flashers on? How about sitting in a handicapped parking space with no one inside it? There are countless situations that you may witness every day where a person misuses his hazard lights in an attempt to avoid crowds or stressful parking. Unfortunately, this misuse is not only highly irritating to those who follow the rules, but also dangerous. 

Although there isn’t a federal law that indicates the legal use of hazards, every state has its own rules on when and where a driver should use his lights, including his hazards. The common understanding is that hazards should only be used to indicate caution during the following situations:

  • Traffic hazards. Flashers should be used to signal to other motorists that a hazard may be approaching. Appropriate circumstances include when there is flooding, a rock slide, an accident, or other hazard on the road, as well as when your car is pulled off on the shoulder due to maintenance issues. The blinking lights will allow fellow drivers to not only see your car better but will also announce to them that there may be a dangerous situation ahead.
  • Slow-moving traffic. Using your hazards to indicate abnormally slow traffic is appropriate for safety reasons, as cars behind you may not be able to tell the speed decrease until they are too close to avoid an accident. By indicating a potential problem, drivers behind you should automatically slow down even if they’re not sure why.
  • Funeral processions. Hazard use is common in funeral processions to not only indicate decreased speeds, but to also show where the procession begins, ends, and who is involved. Remember, funeral processions are not required to obey stop lights or signs as a way to keep the mourners together. The hazard lights will help crossing traffic know that they must remain stopped until the entire procession clears the crossing.

Using Hazards to Break Rules

As the world seems to be moving faster and people are becoming accustomed to getting their way as quickly and effortlessly as possible, hazards have become less about emergencies and more about misguided privilege. Rather than being used as a safety indicator, they’re being abused as a way to park wherever and whenever the driver wants.

Common abuses include using them when:

  • A driver is dropping someone off or picking someone up in an illegal loading zone.
  • A driver or passenger doesn't want to walk the parking lot, so he illegally parks right outside the store for “just a few minutes.”
  • A driver doesn’t want to sit in traffic, so he illegally uses the shoulder to get to an off-ramp.

The list goes on and on. The problem is that whether the driver uses his hazards to indicate his poor driving skills or as a pass to break the rules, by doing so he is creating dangerous traffic situations (there’s a reason that spot is labeled “no-parking”).

Therefore, the next time you feel compelled to push that little triangle button, make sure your reasons are justified. Hazards should only be used to indicate to other motorists that there is, or potentially could be, an unavoidable safety problem. If you use them inappropriately, you could wind up suffering otherwise avoidable traffic problems of your own.

Category: Car Accidents


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