Why it isn't safe to flash hazard lights while driving in the rain

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer

If you have turned on your hazard lights in the rain while driving, then you were most likely breaking the law, depending on which state you live in.

Officials stress that flashers should only be used while your vehicle is stopped or disabled on the roadway or shoulder. The lights are a sign for emergency services that someone is in need of assistance.

"Hazard lights are for vehicles that are stopped and pulled over on the side of the road. It is not for moving vehicles," Public Safety Information Coordinator Eddy Durkin said.

"So - regardless of the weather conditions - if you are driving a moving vehicle, do not activate your flashing lights; it will only cause confusion and compromise your safety," Durkin said.


Cars driving on wet road in the rain with headlights. (c1a1p1c1o1m1/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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 and they don't allow you to use your turn signals.

"A motorist behind you might mistake it for a turn signal or assume that you are tapping on your brakes. They are called hazard lights because they signal a hazard - that your car has broken down, or you have been in an accident," Durkin said.

Durkin said there is one situation where hazard lights are appropriate for moving vehicles and that is during a funeral procession.

"The best advice while driving in the rain is to adjust your speed to the conditions by slowing down and leave more room between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead of you, more than three or four seconds," Durkin said.

Durkin advises if you are caught in a storm that has caused significant flooding, do not drive through standing water because your car could become stuck, plus you don't know if any part of a roadway has been washed away.

"One of the most dangerous times to drive is soon after it begins to rain, as oils on roadways make for slick conditions," Chris Hayes, second vice president of risk control and transportation for Travelers.com, said.

Experts say waiting a few minutes, rather than rushing to your destination, can be a safer plan when it is raining.

"Turn your headlights on to help other vehicles see you. Many states require the use of headlights during rain, even in broad daylight," Hayes said.

Hayes also recommends giving other vehicles more space.

"Add one to two extra seconds of following time in the rain, which gives you and the cars behind you more time to react to traffic," Hayes said.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) completed a study that investigated the number of motor vehicle crashes, injuries, and deaths that occurred in the United States from 2010 to 2014 in relation to the weather conditions and weather-related roadway surface conditions present at the time of the crash.

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The majority of all crashes over the study period (86.2 percent) occurred in clear weather. Among crashes that did not occur in clear weather, the condition present in the greatest proportion of crashes was rain (9.2 percent).

The study said rainfall was associated with elevated crash rates even after accounting for traffic volume.

If you are unsure of the hazard light laws in your state, AAA has a list of state laws regarding hazards. If you cannot see, pull over to a safe place and wait until driving conditions are better.

For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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