Drive with your hazard flashers on?

13

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

“Well the midnight headlights blind you on a rainy night 
Steep grade up ahead, slow me down, makin’ no time, 
But I got to keep rollin'” 

For the truck driver in Eddie Rabbitt’s classic “Drivin’ My Life Away,” hitting that steep grade could easily have meant hitting the hazard light switch, too. After all, crawling up a grade opened up the risk of getting a “four-wheeler up the tailpipe” who was too busy tapping out a text message to note 100,000 pounds of loaded truck going 40 miles per hour below the traffic speed ahead of them.

Drive with your hazard flashers on?But what about us, pushing our motorhomes or tugging our fifth wheels and trailers up a steep grade? Should we, too, pop on the hazard lights? Much depends on who you ask. In general, some law enforcement officials (and laws) frown on the use of hazard lights when a vehicle is actually moving. Here’s one explanation from the Johns Creek, Georgia, Police Department:


“Using your hazard lights while driving is illegal in several states, but not in Georgia. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD USE THEM. Hazard lights can actually reduce visibility making other drivers think you are stopped or stalled. They make it difficult to see if motorists ahead are tapping on the brakes. They turn off your ability to use your turn signals.” [Caps theirs]

It’s arguable that hazard lights will overrule brake lights – in some vehicles yes, others no. But, yes, it’s possible that some drivers really may think a hazard light user is stopped.

Let’s examine the legality issue, first. A survey of traffic laws from around the country reveals that 20 states generally allow use of hazard lights while driving – we say “generally” as a few say it’s OK “unless otherwise posted.” Ten states flat-out rule using hazard lights while moving as illegal under any circumstances, and the other 20 make it illegal with the exception of special circumstances. And here’s where those circumstances could have a major impact on RVers. Those circumstances generally boil down to a loose phrase: “except to indicate a traffic hazard.”

California is one of those states with the “traffic hazard” clause. In the past, one major trucking company advised its drivers not to use hazard flashers, as the interpretation of what constituted a hazard was open to law enforcement officers. One tow truck driver, pulling a heavy load upgrade, had his flashers lit up and was pulled over by a Highway Patrol officer and cited. The driver took the issue to court, arguing that his traveling 30 miles per hour below the posted speed limit did indeed constitute a “traffic hazard,” and the judge agreed.

Drive with your hazard flashers on?
St_A_Sh on flickr.com

In practice, it seems the commonly accepted rule of thumb among many truckers is, “If I’m doing 40 or less, my hazards go on.” Just how many are truly cited for violating state laws against that practice is impossible to determine. Some have commented that regardless of company policy, they’ll drive with their flashers on when they feel the situation is warranted. One made this comment on a truck forum: “What’s going to cost more … A traffic ticket? Or a high-speed accident? Looks like a no-brainer to me.”

Common sense  or letter of the law – it seems the choice is up to you. Here’s a list of the laws from the various states as they relate to hazard light use, drawn from auto club AAA (Canada is included on that page).

ALABAMA
The use of hazard lights is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

ALASKA
The use of hazard lights is not permitted while driving.

ARIZONA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in an emergency situation.

ARKANSAS
Hazard light usage is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

CALIFORNIA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

COLORADO
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except if the vehicle speed is 25 mph or less.

CONNECTICUT
Hazard light use is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

DELAWARE
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

FLORIDA
The use of hazard lights is not permitted while driving.

GEORGIA
The use of hazard lights is permitted while driving.

HAWAII
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

IDAHO
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing.

ILLINOIS
The use of hazard lights is not permitted while driving.

INDIANA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in emergency situations.

IOWA
The use of hazard lights is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

KANSAS
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

KENTUCKY
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

LOUISIANA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

MAINE
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving unless to indicate a traffic hazard.

MARYLAND
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in emergency situations.

MASSACHUSETTS
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

MICHIGAN
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

MINNESOTA
Hazard lights are not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

MISSISSIPPI
Hazard light usage is permitted while driving.

MISSOURI
Hazard light usage is permitted while driving.

MONTANA
Hazard lights are not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

NEBRASKA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

NEVADA
Hazard light usage is not permitted while driving.

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

NEW JERSEY
The use of hazard lights is permitted while driving.

NEW MEXICO
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

NEW YORK
Hazard light use is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

NORTH CAROLINA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

NORTH DAKOTA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

OHIO
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except when a hazardous condition is present.

OKLAHOMA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in emergency situations and to indicate a traffic hazard.

OREGON
Hazard light use is permitted while driving unless otherwise posted.

PENNSYLVANIA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

RHODE ISLAND
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Hazard lights may be used while driving for the purpose of warning the operators of other vehicles of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing.

SOUTH DAKOTA
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

TENNESSEE
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except in emergency situations.

TEXAS
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

UTAH
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

VERMONT
Hazard light use is permitted while driving.

VIRGINIA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except for emergency vehicles, stopped or slowed vehicles to indicate a traffic hazard, when traveling as part of a funeral procession, or traveling slower than 30 mph.

WASHINGTON
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

WEST VIRGINIA
Hazard lights are not permitted while driving except in emergency situations.

WISCONSIN
Hazard lights are not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard or when a hazardous condition is present.

WYOMING
Hazard light use is permitted while driving

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Anthony Joel Vinson

If the situation warrants them, they’re coming on….period. Having someone, hopefully, notice a situation is way better than having a wreck.

Max

Common sense dictates if there are conditions that lower visibility you SHOULD do whatever is available to increase you visibility to fellow drivers, especially if your traveling at lower than the posted speed limit. That being said if I find myself in a low speed, low visibility situation, I WILL run my Hazzard lights, Law, and hurt feelings be damned, and any other light I have available to keep from being plowed into ! Seems drivers today are not intelligent enough to SLOW DOWN in low visibility, so hopefully my Hazzard Lights will will get their attention ! Don’t believe… Read more »

Deb

My husband and I were towing our 37′ motorhome with a toad coming south down Cajon Pass on the 1-15 freeway in a light snowstorm – we thought we were doing a favor by using our hazards in med/heavy traffic as conditions were light slush and fog and wanted to alert faster moving vehicles they were coming up on us.

I didn’t realize we were breaking the law until I saw the state listing posted in this article-now I know.

Ron

CALIFORNIA
Hazard light use is not permitted while driving except to indicate a traffic hazard.

Seems to me you were indicating a traffic hazard and were legal to have them on.

Larry Z.

I have always followed the trucker rule on hazard lights, when I go under 45 MPH climbing a hill. I will use my flashers as long as using them would NOT create an additional hazard. I would never activate my hazard lights just because someone in front of me did.

Kevin Byrd

Ran into this last fall going up the east coast .
Maryland to be specific. Driving our 3500 dually, pulling a 33’ Toyhauler.
The rain was coming down in sheets.
Almost every vehicle on the road hit their hazard lights. Almost blinding. A sea of flashing red lights. Couldn’t tell who was doing what. Couldn’t distinguish hazards from turn signals.
According to this article, hazards are illegal on moving vehicles in Maryland. Guess no one got the memo.

JC Travel Stories

Its too bad that “common sense or the law” is a choice and not the same thing. After driving in Mexico for 18 years where the joke is that traffic laws are just suggestions, its clear that it is often safer to do what works rather than what’s legal.

Don Smith

Anytime I run into a ‘stop’ for any reason on the highway I activate the four ways hoping the drivers behind me will wake up and sense danger ahead. If I am the last one in line behind very slow moving traffic I will have the flashers on for the same reason. I will take all precautions to avoid being rear ended and allow the states’ laws to deal with safety as they see fit. Safety trumps all laws in my opinion.

Jeff

It is absolutely Hilarious to Watch all the LEMMINGS and other boobs that turn on their hazards just because the other monkey in front of them did it!

tc

I total agree. All the vehicles with flashers on WILL cause an accident. Especially in the middle and left hand lanes

Cliff

Shows how some states, it is not actually about traffic safety. I am on the trucking side of things and have about 5 million miles to my credit. It is just common sense to throw on the 4-ways when traveling 45 mph or below in the main flow of traffic on a highway of 60 or more mph. Given how drivers today are so distracted by other things, it could be just the edge to get their attention before they slam into you. I have come upon vehicles out on the freeway that were doing 30-35 in a 70 mph… Read more »

Jeff

Well Cliff, I guess you’ve been up and down Interstate 81 as I have and know all those Hazardous Hills and climbing up them at sometimes only 25 mph, if you were lucky. Yup, been there and done that.

Graybyrd

As a former long-haul truck driver, it was pretty much a no-brainer to flip on the flashers while climbing a grade in the slow lane, or descending more slowly. (Rule of thumb: descend one gear lower than it takes to climb that grade.) Now with my truck camper, if I’m running 20 or more mph slower than the high-speed traffic coming up behind me on a steep grade, my habit has been to use the flashers to warn them. So… it appears that many state lawmakers and DOT authorities insist that we are NOT to use the flashers. I wonder… Read more »