During recent snowstorms, I saw people driving without their lights on. Aren’t you supposed to have your headlights on, even during the day, when there’s a snowstorm? On the flip side, I saw one driver ahead of me driving with his or her flashing hazard lights on. Is this appropriate? Please tell us the right thing to do if we have to drive in a snowstorm.
Gail, from St. Joseph
Thank you, Gail, for your question. Section 257.684 of the Michigan Motor Vehicle code addresses when a driver must use headlights, or head “lamps” as they are referred to in this section. It says in part that you must use headlights “from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise and at any other time when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet.”
During the day while it is snowing there is sufficient light to see, but the snow reduces your visibility. Driving with your headlights on during a daytime snow event is not required by law. However, it just makes good sense to do so. Although the headlights will not help you see, it will help others to see you. I also would recommend using your headlights during a rainstorm for the same reasons.
As far as driving in a snowstorm with your hazard lights, it is not illegal. Section 257.698, section 5, states it is illegal to use or possess flashing, oscillating or rotating lights of any color on a highway, but then lists exceptions (which there are many). This includes 257.698a which states “Any vehicle may be equipped with lamps which may be used for the purpose of warning the operators of other vehicles of the presence of a vehicular traffic hazard requiring the exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking or passing ...”
So to clarify, there must be a traffic hazard of some type to drive down the road with your hazard lights on. There are a few clear examples of this – a vehicle that has had a failure of headlights or taillights and must use hazard lights to get to the next exit or safe place to stop, a semi who is pulling back into traffic and will take a long time to get up to speed, and so on.
The statute does not specifically list driving slow in a snowstorm with your hazard lights on, but it is hard to argue that driving in a snowstorm does not require the “exercise of unusual care in approaching, overtaking and passing.”
Should you use your hazard lights in a snowstorm? There are many different opinions on this topic. I would say that if you are able to travel with the flow of traffic, that you don’t need to use your hazard lights. However, if you are forced to travel much slower than the flow of traffic you might consider using them. I might add, however, that some states do not allow the use of hazard lights while you are moving. It is always good to review the traffic laws of states you plan to visit.
I am glad that we made it through the “2019 Polar Vortex” and temperatures have warmed up. We still have a few more weeks of winter to go, however. The best advice for winter driving is to slow down and drive under control to arrive alive.