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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Stagg

Would You Pass This Driving Test? Most Don't

Lit-up car dashboard.
Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

Vehicles these days are loaded with safety features. Back-up cameras, lane sensors, and more have all emerged in the past decade and made a big difference in the way that people drive. But one of your vehicle's most important safety features is one that has been a staple of vehicles for much, much longer, and some might just be one that you are underutilizing, or just as bad, using incorrectly.

Guessed what it is? If you guessed hazard lights, then you guessed right. Hazard lights are one of the more infrequently used safety tools at our disposal, and according to an article in Drive by Justin Pritchard, that disuse is doing us a disservice.

Pritchard spoke to Carl Nadeau, a Michelin Driving Expert and Stunt Driver about a test that he puts to drivers and that, unfortunately, they usually fail. That test is of how quickly drivers are able to turn on their hazard lights, and whether they need to look for them before activating them.

"When drivers are able to activate their hazard lights without looking for them, they're able to keep their eyes more focused on the road ahead, which is vital for successfully navigating hazardous situations."

The reality is that if you are in a situation where you need to activate your hazard lights, you likely don't have the additional 1-2 seconds it takes to look at your dashboard for the hazard lights and turn them on. Hazards on the road can appear very quickly, and collisions happen in much less time than people realize. That time is largely occupied with recognizing the hazard, responding, and the time it takes for your car to come to a full stop or switch lanes. That leaves little leeway for other actions.

But in Nadeau's experience, most drivers are not able to immediately turn on their hazard lights without first looking at their dashboard, if only to confirm that they are in fact turning them on. And that, according to Nadeau, is a big problem.

Nadeau says: “It should be as normal as hitting the brakes. Drivers can practice the movement — in motor racing, we practice driver change and pit stops for the same reason: we need to build the reflex.”

The article hits on an important point here, and a possible explanation for why people so often fail Nadeau's test: we haven't built up the reflex because hazard lights are not a frequently used tool. Nadeau himself says that they should be used sparingly; more frequent use of them can lessen their impact, which is to alert other drivers of imminent danger.

I myself learned something new about hazard lights in writing this article, something that, embarrassingly, I probably should have known: other drivers, when seeing hazard lights, should activate their own, so that the succession of hazard lights creates a signal to a larger group of drivers regarding an upcoming hazard.

"Flashing four-ways are an even more powerful danger signal to attentive drivers than brake lights, and if your fellow motorists are on the ball, they'll light up their hazard lights too... this causes a chain reaction, turning the entire area into a big flashing light that tells approaching motorists to be on the lookout."

So, next time you run into the trouble on the road, see how quickly you can activate your hazard lights (if necessary), and if you find that you need to check your dashboard before activating them, it might be time to buff up on that skill.

For more, read the original article in Drive by Justin Pritchard.


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