Jane Utecht

On Labor Day weekend my husband and I took a mini-vacation out west.

On the way back east, we ran into rain on I-90. No thunder, lightning or hail, just the heavy, pounding rain and wind of a good old South Dakota summer thunderstorm.

We plugged along with the windshield wipers slapping at high speed, when we came across several vehicles driving very slowly with their hazard lights flashing.

I learned in driver’s education that you use the hazard lights when you’re stopped by the side of the road. My husband pointed out that when your hazards are flashing, other lights don’t work. That could turn a moving car into a hazard if they have to stop or change lanes. 

As I sat down to find official references that it, indeed, driving with hazard lights on was a bad idea and illegal, I was a bit surprised.

In 12 states, driving with the hazard lights on is not permitted, according to AAA.  In 19 states, it’s permitted only in “emergency or hazard situations.”

It is legal in South Dakota, 18 other states, and the District of Columbia. “Use by passenger cars or light trucks while moving on the highway is permitted,” says the South Dakota Highway Patrol website.

Dawn Wiebers, one of Madison’s driver’s education instructors said she tells her students “to use the warning lights when their vehicle is broken down on the side of the road to let traffic know.” She also tells them that “when there is a hazard ahead and the traffic is moving slow put the warning lights on to let traffic behind know to slow down.”

A story on esurance.com by Jessica Guerin says flashers may make your vehicle more visible in bad weather, but because turn signals are disabled when hazards are on, they “may put you at risk” by not being able to properly signal other drivers. It’s also confusing because the other drivers, who were taught like I was, expecting to see a stationary hazard, not a moving one.

Wiebers reminds her students about this too, telling them “[I]f they keep moving slowly then they will have to either use arm signals with flashers going or turn them off so they can signal to make lane changes.”

Legal or not, whether or not to use hazard lights while driving creates its own little storm. A Cleveland-area website got more than 500 responses to the question of whether or not to use hazard lights in bad weather. Over half (53 percent) felt it was a benefit; the other 47 percent thought it created a hazard.

Guerin ends her article with a suggestion on the best way to handle using hazard lights – “avoid driving in bad weather whenever possible.”


Jane Utecht was born and raised in Iowa but has lived in South Dakota for over 25 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Iowa State University, her M.S. in journalism from South Dakota State University.

Utecht has experience working at weekly and daily newspapers and enjoys telling the stories of everyday people.

She is also an amateur musician, and taught piano for over 20 years.

In this blog, Jane will share her thoughts, sometimes on education issues, sometimes on general lessons of life.