What are Hazard Lights and When Should You Use Them?

What are Hazard Lights and When Should You Use Them?

by Zutobi · Updated Dec 12, 2023

In this article, we go through:

  • How to use hazard lights
  • When to use and not to use them
  • State-specific regulations

What are Hazard Lights?

Hazard lights, often called flashers or emergency lights, are a safety feature in vehicles. They are blinking lights, usually bright amber, found on your car’s front and back. These lights are a universal signal for trouble or warning on the road.

What are Hazard Lights?
Hazard lights help alert other drivers of an emergency or danger.

How to Use Hazard Lights

How to Use 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.

When Should You Use Hazard Lights?

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.
car with burst tire
Activate your hazard warning lights if your tire blows and you need to stop on the side of the road.
  • 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.
Towing Car
Towing Car

When Should You NOT Use Hazard Warning Lights?

Common Driving Situations

  • As an Excuse for Illegal Parking: Using the hazard lights doesn’t legalize parking in restricted areas and creates unnecessary risks.
  • In Regular Traffic Flow: Employing the hazard lights during normal driving can mislead and confuse other road users.
  • When Trying to Turn or Exit a Road: The hazard lights are not meant for signaling turns or exits, as they obscure your intended direction.
  • During Brief Stops for Convenience: Quick stops like dropping off passengers or loading items do not usually warrant the use of hazard lights and create confusion on the road.

Non-Emergency Scenarios

  • As a Substitute for Broken Lights: The emergency lights cannot replace malfunctioning turn signals or brake lights and do not fulfill legal signaling requirements.
  • When Towing Without Difficulty: Unless the towing process significantly slows you down or there’s a problem, the hazard lights are not necessary.
  • During Driving in Rain or Fog: Regular vehicle lights should be used in these conditions, as the flashers can lead to confusion and are often illegal.
Cars in the rain on the wet road
Regular car lights and turn signals are the best choices in most bad weather conditions.

Hazard Light Regulations in Different States

In all states, the hazard lights are allowed when a vehicle is stationary. Still, regulations differ regarding their use when the vehicle is moving. There are two states where it’s allowed to use the emergency lights during a car movement: FL and GA.

And here is the full list of states in which it’s forbidden to use the emergency lights when moving: AK, CA, CT, HI, IA, KY, MD, MA, MN, MT, NV, NH, NY, ND, OR, PA, RI, SD, UT, VT, WA, WI.


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