Many automobiles use their front and rear signal lights to create hazard lights in a distinctive blinking pattern that can be used to alert other drivers to a problem. Typically, they run on the same circuit as regular lights, although they are controlled with a separate switch. Knowing how and when to use the hazards can be useful in an emergency situation, although drivers should also be equipped with highway flares.
Hazard lights are turned on with a small switch located near the steering column. Usually, it is in a separate area, so that the lights cannot be turned on accidentally by an unwitting hand. In many cars, the switch has a small triangular icon on it, and it is often red or orange, to make it more visible in emergencies. The two most common types of switches are tabs that need to be pulled and buttons that are pressed.
When the switch is activated, all of the turn signals on the vehicle will simultaneously illuminate and start flashing in a rhythmic pattern. This pattern is highly visible and very unique, so that drivers will not confuse it with turn signals or approaching headlights. As a general rule, drivers who see a vehicle with hazard lights on should slow down until they know what the problem is.
Most commonly, these lights are used on a disabled car that has been pulled to the side of the road. Especially at night, they increase the visibility of the car so that it will not be hit. It also alerts drivers to the fact that there is a problem of some kind, and some drivers use the lights to ask for help, usually in combination with leaving the hood up. Responders to an accident scene may also use their hazards to warn drivers about unusual conditions up ahead, and to help clear a lane for the accident.
Driving should never be done with the hazard lights alone, as this can be highly dangerous. These lights should also not be used to warn oncoming traffic about approaching hazards. A much better choice is for the driver to flash his headlights or lightly tap the horn. Using hazards may distract or confuse the oncoming driver, while flashing the lights is generally interpreted as a sign to slow down and be cautious. This feature can also be used to check whether or not all of the signal lights are working. When the car parked and safe position, such as in a driveway, the driver can turn the key to the “accessory” position and turn on the hazard lights on so that he can walk all the way around the car and make sure that no bulbs need to be replaced.