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Drive with your hazards on?

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.

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]Truck in Snow

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.

Hazards Sign

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

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Mel Kraft
9 months ago

These are the following situations where I use my hazard lights, running lights, headlights.

  1. Head light are daytime running lights and are on as soon as I start the vehicle
  2. I turn on the tail lights as soon as I start rolling.
  3. Hazard lights are used when climbing a steep hill if I am slower that the general traffic.
  4. When driving down the road and there is a slow down in the traffic ahead, I use my Hazard lights to let everyone behind me know there is a problem up ahead.

I have had more than one situation where cars are coming up fast on me and there is a problem up ahead, as soon as I put on my hazard light you can see them all start to slow and back off and when I think it is safe I turn the hazards off. The use of hazard lights should be at the discretion of the driver not the government. If you see hazard lights flashing you had better make a quick decision whether they are stopped or moving slowly and handle your driving accordingly.

Hans. Warger
7 months ago
Reply to  Mel Kraft

I agree 100% with Your statement

Timothy Hardy
9 months ago

Sorry to disagree with the Johns Creek police department, but according to the Georgia State Patrol and my experience as a Georgia certified law enforcement officer, the use of hazard lights while driving is NOT legal in Georgia except by trucks and other slow traffic operating well below the posted speed limit.

Lorna
9 months ago

Thanks for this article! Cleared up a lot of questions for me!

Bob P
9 months ago

When I started my short career driving trucks I was told by the safety department that I should use my hazard lights anytime I couldn’t maintain minimum posted highway speed limit such as climbing a steep grade. I no longer drive trucks but I still adhere to that theory, as soon as my speed drops below the minimum speed limit I turn on my hazards until I am able to regain speed, I don’t worry about a truck running into the back of me but I do worry about 4 wheelers. The way they are manufacturing 4 wheelers today with the giant touch screen where you must take your eyes off the road to change the radio station is dangerous in my opinion, Honda is one of the worst, you take your eyes off the road to change the volume. We just bought a 2018 Nissan Frontier and one of the reasons for the purchase was because it didn’t have all the “modern” computer crap in it.

Donald N Wright
9 months ago

What about the turn signals you cannot see as all the turn signal lights are flashing?

PennyPA
9 months ago

There is no reason you can’t turn off your hazard lights and turn on your turn signal.

Bob
9 months ago

Thank you for this article. It’s always good to know the law. We are following the big trucks up the steep grade, so we follow the lead of the professional driver in front of us.

Tom
9 months ago

Now let’s talk about turning on headlights.

PennyPA
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom

In Pennsylvania the law is “wipers on, headlights on”. I don’t know what it is here in Texas but that seems like a good rule to follow.

Hans. Warger
7 months ago
Reply to  Tom

In Canada it’s head light on all the time when you’re driving

Glen Cowgill
9 months ago

Most ignored law on the books. Here in South Florida, oops, just make that Florida, as soon as it starts to rain, almost every 4 wheeler turns on their hazard lights and gets in the left lane. If we have laws on the books we need to enforce the law or get rid of the law.

Timothy Hardy
1 year ago

Your information regarding the use of hazard warning lights while driving in Georgia is incorrect. Per the Georgia State Patrol, using hazard lights while driving is unlawful, with exceptions for slow-moving traffic (such as trucks or other large vehicles moving below 40 mph on an expressway). Using hazard lights in the rain but at near normal speeds, as many four-wheelers do, is unlawful.

Nicholas Velvet
1 year ago

If a Class A , most Class C’s attempting to drive at 40 mph up a hill, wind, etc. or less on posted highways where the speed limit is 65, 70 or higher is not a “traffic hazard” I do not know what is. I could give a rats {bleeped} if a cop pulled me over for this BS “technical” violation, I am going to do whatever in my good common sense says is needed to be safe.

Same thing with being “pulled over”. I will continue to proceed until there is a pull off allowing me to comply with this stupidity where I feel safe not where a cop puts his or her cruzer in the lane with their overhead lights on. We all have seen what can happen when a car is rear ended. Overhead lights or not, the result is never pretty and stupidity seems to increase a lot in these situations where perceived positions of power are asserted. Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago

If it’s daylight out, I never use my “four-ways”. Simple as that. That’s after over three decades of trucking too. If someone is texting instead of paying attention, it isn’t going to matter. In dense fog, maybe. No matter WHAT you do, if the guy behind you isn’t paying attention or going too fast for the road conditions, no amount of flashing lights is going to help, and as someone else mentioned, may even make the situation worse.

Anthony Joel Vinson
2 years ago

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

Max
2 years ago

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 me, just look at all the multi -vehicle pile ups.

Deb
2 years ago

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
2 years ago
Reply to  Deb

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.
2 years ago

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
2 years ago

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
2 years ago

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
2 years ago

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
2 years ago

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
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

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

PennyPA
9 months ago
Reply to  tc

If they are traveling in the middle or left hand lanes they shouldn’t have their hazards on at all.

Cliff
2 years ago

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 zone at night and got pretty close before I could tell they were moving very slow and then try to slow or move to avoid them without putting others in danger. And those states that don’t allow it, I have travelled them and thrown on my 4-ways on more than one occasion to give others a heads up. I have never been cited. And if I were to be, taking it to court would be the proper way to resolve it.

Jeff
2 years ago
Reply to  Cliff

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.