Flashing Headlights – What Does it Mean?

Don L. Gates

Flashing HeadlightsAll cars are equipped with a control for flashing headlights, but when should you use it?

Between the hours of 11:30pm and 7am, it is against the law to sound the horn in a built up area. So how do you warn someone? You guessed it; you flash your lights!

It is also good practise to flash your lights at night when approaching blind corners or road narrowings to warn oncoming drivers who might be hidden from view.

Giving up Priority

Many people flash their headlights as a signal to others to proceed; usually when they are giving up priority. But that was never its intended purpose; and I would not recommend that you adopt this habit.

As a passenger in car, I recently witnessed my driver slow down and flash for an oncoming driver to turn right across her path. The problem was, that another driver was about to emerge from that same junction. Who was the signal for? And what if they both acted upon it and moved at the same time?

This is the potential danger of headlight flashing. Too many drivers do this without showing proper awareness of their surroundings. Is anyone about to come past you? Could there be cyclists hidden from view? Is the other driver ready to turn; and more importantly is it safe for them to do so?

The Cause of Accidents

Many years ago a driver emerged from a road on my left and drove straight into the side of my car. She then got out of her own car and screamed at me “Didn’t you see that driver flash me out?” Who was to blame in this situation? Was it the driver who pulled out of the junction without looking properly; or the driver who flashed their lights?

The short answer is both of them. The main priority is on the emerging driver to ensure it is safe and clear. But anyone who flashes their lights at another road user must also shoulder some of them blame.

What if you flashed your lights at a waiting pedestrian who then stepped into the path of another car?

You can see that the flashing of headlights in the wrong situation can, and does cause accidents. It is simpler and safer to just not do it. If you want to leave a gap for someone to turn when appropriate, by all means do so. But first make sure that it is safe, and then let them make their own decision with no signal from you.

What if someone flashes their lights at you? Do not assume that it is safe or correct to proceed. Always look properly, take responsibility and make your own decision. You also need to be aware that many cars now have daytime running lights; and these can sometimes appear to flash when the vehicle goes over a bump!

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