Discover the right and wrong times to use your vehicle’s hazard warning lights to ensure you always stay on the right side of the Highway Code.
That button featuring a red triangle on your dashboard has the potential to save your life; once pressed, it offers other drivers ample warning that something is amiss up ahead and gives them time to react accordingly.
But there’s a problem. Even experienced motorists aren’t always sure when to actually use their hazard warning lights, often reaching for the red triangle to highlight an issue on the road when they shouldn’t be.
In some circumstances, turning on all your blinkers can even be dangerous and could see you being penalised.
What the Highway Code Says
The Code states that you can use your hazard warning lights “when your vehicle is stationary, to warn that it is temporarily obstructing traffic”; the reasons for your stoppage can vary from being involved in an accident, having to stop because of an obstruction or even running out of fuel.
The Code also states that the lights can be deployed if “you are on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway and you need to warn drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead”.
Remember though that hazard lights should only be used briefly in such a situation – think 3-5 seconds – which should be “long enough to ensure that your warning has been observed”.
And of course, if you are pulled up on a motorway hard shoulder, hazard lights should also be switched on; according to the AA, “more than 800 people killed or injured each year on hard shoulders and lay-bys” so exercise extreme caution.
The above may sound perfectly logical but the devil is inevitably in the detail. The Highway Code states that you mustn’t use your hazards while driving or being towed unless it’s on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway and there is a hazard or obstruction ahead.
That may seem strange as you may be tempted to use your hazards in other circumstances such as driving slowly because, say, you’re looking for a turning. The issue though?
It renders your indicators useless if you are planning on changing lanes or turning down another road; there is now no way of letting other vehicles know that you’re about to make a manoeuvre because all your indicators are currently on.
The Highway Code also states that hazard lights should never be used as “an excuse for dangerous or illegal parking”. Not that the rule is adhered to by many UK drivers. It’s a common sight to see motorists pulled up in an illegal place or double parked alongside another vehicle with hazard lights on to warn other drivers or as a half-hearted attempt to appease roaming traffic wardens.
In either case, such parking remains illegal and potentially dangerous so don’t expect any leniency from the authorities.
Even parked up safely at the side of a street with your hazards flashing on and off is potentially dangerous. For instance, if parked on the left, your use of the hazards could suggest that you’re about to pull out if your lefthand side indicators are blocked from view to passing traffic.
It means motorists coming up from behind will slow down, only to realise that you have your hazard lights on as they drive past, leading to potential congestion, confusion and frustration; none of which are ideal for a safe driving environment.
Be Safe, Not ‘Polite’
When out on the road, you will also often see drivers using their hazard lights to briefly thank other motorists, say, for letting them into a lane. This again is an incorrect use of hazard lights because, well, the clue’s in the name – hazard warning lights.
Finally, while there is no specific law regarding the inappropriate use of hazard lights, the circumstances within which they are used – such as double parking – could lead to a penalty being issued.
By learning how to use the lights appropriately now, not only will you become a safer, better driver, you’ll also protect your hard-won licence from the threat of penalty points – and your bank balance from hefty fines.