hazard flasher driving laws

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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]

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.

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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