There are, in this crazy world, but a few immutable truths: The earth is round, the sun sets in the west, and when you flash your headlights at a car in front of you or one that’s trying to pull out in front of you, it means it’s okay to go. Sure, there are a couple of other meanings, but it’s not supposed to mean what people use it for nowadays, which is basically, Speeding jerk coming through!
Let’s clear this up.
Recently, a friend I was riding with flashed his lights at someone who was about to pull out in front of him onto the road from a sidestreet. My friend was going too fast to let the other person in, so he explained that by flashing his lights, it let the person know it was NOT okay to pull out.
“But flashing your lights means it’s OKAY to pull out!” I insisted. “You’re telling him he can go!” I grew up in the South and was always taught that when a car flashes their lights it means it’s okay to go, or if it’s an oncoming car, that either you’re driving without your lights on when you should be, or that there is a cop running radar nearby.
But the debate had me flustered. Had I been using my flashing lights option wrong this whole time? Were there myriad other valid uses of this method of driver-to-driver communication?
I had to find out. First, I went to Twitter. Someone had sort of cleared it up, but not exactly:
“You think you know what headlight flashing is,” Rohin Dharmakumar wrote, “but no, you don’t really. Google it.” Attached was an article on driving etiquette that explained why this simple gesture is misunderstood.
Headlight flashing, or optical horn, is the act of quickly switching between high beam and low beam headlight numerous times. It is commonly used to convey a signal or message to other drivers, such as letting others know of car breakdowns or other road hazards. It is also a way of letting other motorists and pedestrians know of your presence. However, these days headlight flashing has gone the way of aggressive driving, with a lot of drivers flashing their headlights to tell other drivers that they do not plan to slow down even if they do not have the right of way. The use of headlight flashing should not lose its original essence, which is to caution other drivers, so please use it appropriately.
I would change this to indicate it’s used not as a caution but as an invitation. Here are the ways in which it’s okay to flash your headlights:
- If you’re driving down the road and someone coming the other way does not have any headlights on, and they should, you flash your lights to let them know that they need to turn them on.
- If you’re driving down the road and have just passed a cop running radar or there is a hazard up ahead their way, you flash your lights at oncoming motorists to warn them of what’s up the road for them.
- If you want to let a motorist trying to merge or pull out in front of you know that it’s okay to do so, you flash your lights.
One annoying, wrong way it’s used is by aggressive drivers who use it to mean Get the hell out of my way I’m not stopping! Or, get over, I’m coming through! Usually that person is speeding or a jerk, though. Wikipedia lists multiple other reasons a driver might flash their lights, like in protest or for a celebration. But they include overtaking or passing, insisting someone speed up or move over, or “I will continue my current behavior!”
So I turned to truckers, a veteran crew of roadsters who know driving etiquette better than anyone. On the Facebook group Truckers Wall of Shame, I asked them to settle a debate: When you flash your headlights at someone trying to get in front of you, does it mean go, or does it mean stand down and get the heck out of the way?
Over 200 truckers responded immediately, and the answer was overwhelmingly this: it means it’s safe to go.
“It would mean go ahead,” said Janet. “I always mean it as ‘you’re clear,’” said Kenneth. “It means put your ****ing foot down and go!” said Troy. “Don’t make me slow down!”
“It means get the f*** going,” said Scott. “It means you are clear to get over,” said Justin. “But gas it or break and get behind me, but don’t do both. Make up your mind cause I’m not the one merging so I’m not slowing down.”
Trucker Bob noted that nowadays cars do think it means something else. “It used to mean go ahead and merge but now car makers decided to teach them it means to inform others that u are going to pass them when u flash ur lights,” he said. “My dad was a truck driver and always said that means that you are letting them in,” said Darylyne.
A few truckers noted that when they just leave on their high beams without flashing them, it means they are coming through. “If you’re just wanting to let them know not to go, leave them high beams on don’t flash them,” Christopher said. “Off then back on means come on,” said Nick. “High beams means you’re a dumb f***.”
Many others agreed. “Flash means go ahead, brights flipped on and left on is “I’m illuminating the ***hole!” said Jake.
Of course, there is one other meaning we should take note of, but it doesn’t undermine the point here. A guy named Raymond said it means, “Take your top off as you go by,” but the operative phrase here is “as you go by,” meaning it’s still OKAY TO GO, even if they’re looking for a little flash.
Either way, let’s try to get it right from here on out.