JOPLIN, Mo. — Flashing headlights can actually mean a few different things, depending on the context. Fortunately, it only takes a second to check the two most common things the other driver is trying to communicate: Your own headlights, and the potential dangers ahead of you on the road.
Despite what you may have heard, it’s not a gang initiation ritual. As long as your own headlines are on, a flash of the headlights from an oncoming car typically means to expect law enforcement ahead. Often, it means that they have radar and are trying to catch speeders.
So the question becomes, is it legal to flash your headlights for this reason? In some states, it used to be illegal to flash your headlights to warn other drivers about a speed trap. The ACLU stepped many times across the country representing individuals concerning this subject. “The police cannot retaliate against drivers who have done nothing wrong and are simply exercising their right to communicate with other drivers,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.
Basically, every state has different rules regarding flashing lights as a warning. However, with the Supreme Court ruling in Spence v. Washington, it’s safe to say outdated municipal ordinances about this issue don’t hold water.
The official New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Driver’s Manual includes information about when you should flash your lights at another driver, or reasons that another driver may light you up. It says to flash another driver when their headlights are off and they are hard to see at night or in other periods of low visibility. It also says to flash your headlights if you spot deer or other creatures near the road.
The DMV says that it is not appropriate to flash your high beams or “brights” at an oncoming car with theirs on. If you have trouble seeing in the face of bright headlights, don’t look at them. Instead, shift your focus slightly to the right side of your lane, using the white line painted on the edge of most roads to orient you. When blinded from behind, shift your rear view mirror down.