Are You Using Your Car Hazard Lights the Right Way?

All cars from any manufacturer must be equipped with hazard lights. The use of hazard lights is relatively rare, but the presence of these lights is very important in an emergency situation.

So far, the hazard light is identical to a red color symbol. To activate it, you only need to press the symbol that is usually placed in the center of the dashboard. After pressing the symbol button, the right and left turn signals will flash simultaneously.

Basically, the use of hazard lights is very easy and simple. However, the hazard lights cannot be used arbitrarily. At least there are several functions of the hazard lights to support your driving safety.

What Are Hazard Warning Lights?

Hazard warning lights are a pair of intermittent flashing indicator lights that flash in unison to warn other drivers that the vehicle is a temporary obstruction. They are also called hazard flashers and hazard lights.

Different countries use hazard warning lights in different ways. In New Zealand, we wouldn’t use them on a motorway to warn other drivers that we’re slowing down, but in the UK this is recommended.

They are usually activated by pressing a button on the dashboard that looks like a red triangle, as shown. Some vehicles (usually European ones) will automatically activate the hazard warning lights under heavy braking or if the vehicle is involved in an accident.

When Should You Use Hazard Lights?

They are to warn other road users that you ar a temporary hazard. For example, if you have broken down on the side of the road, or you are changing a tyre. If you are being towed, you should use your hazard warning lights.

If you are being towed and you are using your hazard lights, you will need to use hand signals to indicate direction because the hazard lights override the indicators.

car hazard lights

How to Use Hazard Lights? You can find the switch, marked with a red triangle, usually on the dashboard or near the steering column. Simply press this switch to activate the lights, and press the switch again to turn them off.

Emergency Situations

  • Vehicle Breakdowns: When your car can’t move due to a breakdown, switch on the flashers to signal others to navigate around your vehicle.
  • Accidents: In case of a collision, activate the hazard lights. They alert other drivers to the accident scene, helping them pass safely.
  • Roadside Emergencies: If you must stop for an urgent issue, like a health emergency or a tire change, use the lights to indicate your stationary position.

Traffic and Legal Compliance

  • Stopped or Slow-Moving Traffic: Use the hazard lights to warn the drivers behind you in heavy traffic jams or sudden stops, especially on highways.
  • Law Enforcement Interactions: When stopped by police or following their instructions in traffic situations, turn on the lights to increase visibility and show compliance.

Special Driving Circumstances

  • Funeral Processions: Using the hazard lights during a funeral procession helps keep the group together and signals other drivers to the procession.
  • Slow-Moving Vehicles: If driving significantly below the usual speed, like when towing, use the lights to warn others of your slower pace.

Avoid Using Your Car’s Hazard Lights When:

  • You are driving in bad weather. With your hazards on and rain or snow already blurring road visibility, other drivers may not be able to tell which lane you’re in or if you’re changing lanes. Turn on your headlights and taillights in inclement weather instead. If the weather is bad enough that you feel hazard lights are truly necessary, pull off the road and stop until conditions improve.
  • Driving in heavy traffic. While your hazards can make you more visible, they can also make it challenging for other drivers to anticipate what you’re doing and where you’re headed, since turn signals are disabled when hazards are activated in some cars.
  • Parking illegally. Parking illegally is never a good idea. But if you do park illegally…turning on your hazard lights doesn’t make it legal. Keep driving until you find an appropriate parking spot and won’t be blocking traffic.
  • A turn signal will do the job. If you’re slowing down to exit the highway due to an unexpected problem, think twice before using your hazards. As we mentioned before, turn signals are generally disabled when your flashers are on. That can make it difficult for other drivers to know where you’re going and could result in a crash.

Know the hazard light laws in your state.

Hazard light laws differ across the U.S. In some states, it’s acceptable to use your hazard lights while driving. In others, it’s only okay to turn on your hazard lights while driving if “the vehicle speed is 25 mph or less,” like in Colorado, or “to indicate a traffic hazard,” like in California.

Below is a brief list of hazard light laws by state per AAA, but make sure to review your state’s specific laws and guidelines before making any assumptions.

Use of hazard lights is generally permitted while drivingUse of hazard lights is NOT permitted while drivingUse of hazard lights is NOT permitted while driving, except in emergency or other specified scenarios
New HampshireNew MexicoMinnesota
New JerseyRhode IslandMaine
New YorkTennesseeMaryland
North CarolinaWyomingMontana
North DakotaPuerto RicoOhio
South CarolinaWashington
South DakotaWest Virginia

Even with your hazards on, stopping your car near traffic can be dangerous. Anything you can do to prevent having to pull over in the first place is worth considering.