Here’s the Only Time You Should Use Your Hazard Lights

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The rules vary state by state, so make sure you know the guidelines before you buckle up and drive.

Hazards of the road

You’re driving on local roads and highways on your daily commute. Suddenly, sheets of rain pour down, making what once seemed fine driving weather into an actual hazard. You see in front of you that drivers are turning on their hazard lights, but should you do the same? Read on to learn when you should (and shouldn’t) use your hazard lights. Before you hit the road, brush up on the things you should never do to your car and the weird car features you didn’t know you might have.

First of all, what are hazard lights?

Hazard lights aren’t just for decoration. The experts at the Ford Driving Skills for Life Team (Ford DSFL) tell Reader’s Digest that “the hazard warning function is by FMVSS 108 definition a ‘driver-controlled device which causes all required turn signal lamps to flash simultaneously to indicate to approaching drivers the presence of a vehicular hazard.’ Most state laws are user laws, so they can determine when the user (driver) is permitted to operate them if they choose.” Basically, they’re lights on your car that flash on and off periodically to alert other drivers on the road of a potentially dangerous situation.

When should you use hazard lights?

Alright, so hazard lights are meant to alert other drivers of a potential hazard ahead. When exactly should you turn these lights on? Here are some situations where you should use your hazard lights.

You’re getting pulled over by a police officer

Seeing those red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror? Flip on your hazard lights as you’re pulling over. “Turning them on shows that you have acknowledged them and will pull over at the earliest opportunity,” says Daivat Dholakia, Director of Operations at Force by Mojio.

You get into a car accident

If you get into a crash, put your hazard lights on to alert other drivers of the accident. Here are other important things to do after a car accident.

Your car breaks down

If you’re having car trouble, pull over to the safest spot and put on your hazard lights to alert other drivers.

You’re changing a tire

If you need to change a tire on the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights so other drivers can see your car. This is especially important if you’re changing a tire when visibility is low, like at night or when it’s foggy.

You’re driving in a funeral procession

If you’re driving in a funeral procession, you can flip on your hazard lights. “This alerts other drivers that a funeral procession is taking place and they should reduce their vehicle speed accordingly,” says John Peterson, Editor of Safe Drive Gear.

When should you not use hazard lights?

There are certain situations where you shouldn’t use your hazard lights (even if you see others using them). Think twice before using them in these situations.

Illegal parking

David Clark, a lawyer and partner at The Clark Law Office in Michigan, says you shouldn’t use your hazard lights if you’re parking illegally, or use your hazard lights to get a parking spot. Need to run into the store real quick? Park your car in a designated space—don’t park illegally and flip on your hazard lights to signal you’ll be back shortly.

Driving in bad weather

Bad weather isn’t an excuse to use your hazard lights. “If the weather you are experiencing is so bad that you feel the need to turn on your flashers due to low visibility, you should pull over to a safe place with the hazard lights on to warn other drivers that you are sitting there. Once conditions clear, resume your travel,” John Burkhauser, an auto repair specialist and director of educational programs at Bolt On Technology, recommends. “Realize that in bad weather it is hard enough to see you, but now with no turn signals, other drivers also don’t know where you may be going to.” Here are a few more safe driving tips for scary driving situations.

Slowing down to exit the highway

If you’re having car trouble and need to exit the highway, it’s best to reconsider using your hazard lights as you’re exiting. Peterson says that can make it tough for other drivers to know where you’re going since, typically, turn signals are turned off when your hazard lights are on.

Hazard light laws in each state

One of the most important things to remember about hazard light laws is that they differ from state to state. Here’s a breakdown of hazard light use in each state, according to AAA.

States where you can use your hazard lights while driving unless otherwise noted

Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.

States where you can’t use your hazard lights while driving except in an emergency or in other specific instances

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

States where you can’t use your hazard lights while driving

Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. Clark reminds us that the misuse of hazard lights can lead to legal consequences, including a traffic ticket. Keep these hazard light laws in mind, especially if you’re taking a road trip anytime soon.

Do these things before hitting the road

Now that you know more about using hazard lights, here’s what you can do to reduce the chances of having to use them on the road.

  • Inspect your car—“I recommend that all drivers get into a habit of walking around their vehicles regularly,” says Burkhauser. It’s good to observe your car regardless, and every couple of weeks look at the lights and make sure that you’re visible in all circumstances. “Additionally, look at your tires and vehicle body. Pop the hood and take a peek. Over time you will become familiar with your vehicle so you may see something change or go bad and catch it before it leaves you stuck.” Here are some important car maintenance tips to keep your vehicle running smoothly.
  • Check your car at rest stops if you’re traveling—Not only does walking around your car help you become more familiar with your vehicle and how it works, but it does have practical uses that will help you in the long run. “On long trips, I walk around my car at rest stops just to look things over. Two times this has saved me from changing a flat tire on the side of a busy highway because I noticed an object in my tire before it went flat,” says Burkhauser. “I was able each time to drive it to a shop to get it repaired.”
  • Check road conditions and weather before traveling—Getting caught in bad weather can cause you to pull over and use your hazard lights. Check the weather ahead of time to see what you may run into on the road. If the weather’s looking bad, consider adjusting your travel plans.
  • Be prepared—It’s better to be safe than sorry when driving. Be prepared while on the road with these items you should always keep in your car, including The Antigravity Batteries XP-10 battery charger, which Consumer Reports also recommends.

Now, don’t miss these car hacks that will make driving even safer.

Sources:

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a Digital Associate Editor/Writer at RD.com. Previously, she worked for HuffPost and Golf Channel. Her writing has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her work can be found on her website: www.madelinehwahl.com