Hazard lights can seem like a driver’s best friend. They can be used for lots of awkward road situations where you just need a little courtesy signal.

Did you drop something by the side of the curb? Hazard lights. Are you in slow moving traffic and want to thank the car behind you for letting you in? Hazard lights. Do you feel the need to rescue a group of stray baby ducks? Hazard lights!

But hazard lights weren’t meant to be the duct tape of the road. You can’t use them whenever you feel like it. So when is it illegal to drive with hazard lights on in Australia? We’ve got some answers for you.

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The dash of a car with a brightly lit hazard light button, but is it illegal to drive with hazard lights on in australia

Is it illegal to drive with hazard lights on in Australia?

The short answer is yes. If you’re driving normally, it is illegal to drive with hazard lights on, and you could be fined. Your hazards should be used when your car has become a hazard to other drivers for reasons beyond your control, and for no other reason.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, which we’ve listed below. We’ve also listed the most common ways hazard lights are used illegally, to help you stay out of trouble.

When is it legal to drive with hazard lights on?

There are limited situations wherein you can activate your hazard lights while driving in Australia, but most states laws are clear and consistent. You can use hazard lights in these situations:

  • When you breakdown abruptly
  • If you’re driving a slow moving vehicle
  • In the emergency lane
  • If you’re selling products
  • When it’s rough weather
  • For anti-theft devices
  • If you’re a school bus driver

Here’s some more detail on the situations where it’s legal to drive with hazard lights on.

Abrupt breakdown. If your car stops suddenly due to a malfunction and has becomes a dangerous obstruction, then you must activate your hazard lights. This is to inform other vehicles you’re experiencing mechanical problems. And yes, it needs to be a genuine issue, no fakes. You must also put your hazard lights on when changing a tire at the side of the road. If you’re a potential obstacle to incoming motorists due to mechanical problems, put those hazards lights on.

Slow moving vehicle. Some vehicles are allowed on the road but can’t go fast enough to keep up with the natural flow of traffic. Some examples include tractors, trailer trucks, and heavy machinery. If you’d driving one, it is legal to drive with hazard lights on to warn other drivers. This will prevent unnecessary frustration, horn honks, and road rage.

Emergency lane. If you’ve stopped in an emergency or breakdown lane, then you can activate your hazard lights to signal for help. Just like when you breakdown, you’ll want to be in the emergency lane for a good reason.

Selling products. Some vehicles are registered and equipped to sell food and other items. Obvious examples include ice cream trucks. If you’re driving a car like this and stop to make a sale, you must use your hazard lights. The law doesn’t explicitly mention when it is illegal to play Greensleeves, but you should slow down when you hear its charming melody.

Rough weather. Driving through heavy fog or pelting rain where visibility is low could cause other drivers to miss your tail lights. In these cases it’s okay to drive with hazard lights on to increase your visibility on the road. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Anti-theft or lockout devices. Most anti-theft or blood alcohol lockout devices will use the hazard lights as part of their alarm system. Activating the hazard lights in conjunction with these tools is completely legal. However, the activity that triggers them may not be!

School buses and special vehicles. Some special vehicles like school buses and garbage trucks have to stop frequently, to make their respective pickups! These vehicles can use their hazard lights at those times, and they often come on themselves. However, using hazard lights when making passenger or parcel pickups doesn’t let you park illegally.

the rear of a sydney bus at an indoor roadshow, the rear of the bus reads 40 when light flash, because it is legal to drive with hazards lights on if you're driving a bus and picking up passengers

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When is it illegal to drive with hazard lights on?

In general, it is illegal to drive with hazard lights on, unless the situation is an exception. But to be helpful, here are the most common ways where hazards lights are used when it’s actually illegal to do so.

  • Illegal Parking
  • Indecision
  • Towing
  • Abrupt stoppage
  • Slow moving traffic
  • Just because

Here’s a little more detail on each of the situations where it is legal to drive with hazard lights on.

Illegal parking. It is illegal to use your hazard lights to try and avoid parking laws. While some drivers may see hazard lights as a way of saying “I’ll be back in a tick”, the law disagrees. If you double park or stop in no stopping zone, hazard lights won’t stop you from getting a fine.

Indecision. There are times when you get lost and need to find your bearings. It can be tempting to slow down to crane your neck for a street names or consult a maps, and to use hazard lights to beg forgiveness from other drivers. But this is dangerous, because the hazard lights typically override your indicator. So when you suddenly remember where to go and change directions, cars or pedestrians near you won’t know it.

When you need a minute, pull over and park properly. Then figure out where you’re going. It might seem like a hassle, but you’ll be doing the right thing and keeping the road safe.

Towing. This is a two-fer. If your car is being towed, there’s no need to use the hazard lights. The presence of a tow truck is normally signal enough. On the other hand, if you’re towing something else, there’s also no need to use hazard lights. An exception is if what you’re towing puts you into the slow moving vehicle category.

Abrupt stoppage. If you have to stop quickly in the middle of a road, don’t use your hazards. It’s your brake lights job to tell other drivers you’re stopping. Adding hazard lights to the mix will just slow your reaction time and make the situation more dangerous. Just use your brake as needed and hope the driver behind has left enough space.

Pro Tip: If someone is driving really close behind you, the best thing you can do is leave more space between you and the car in front of you. It won’t affect the driver behind you, but in the case of an emergency, you won’t have to brake as suddenly. That might just be the difference between old mate behind you smashing into you!

Slow moving traffic. If you see slow moving traffic up ahead, don’t use your hazard lights. Just like when you need to stop quickly, it’s the job of your brake lights to alert other drivers you’re slowing. In many cases, hazard lights will lead to other driver’s being confused, while red brake lights are an immediate stop signal for all drivers.

Just because. Are you so bored that you’re wanting the slow tick noise of the hazard lights to keep you company? Then turn on the radio, talk to your passengers, or talk to yourself. When you’re driving along, and everything is normal, it is illegal to drive with hazard lights on.

Summary

Hazard lights are there to keep you and other drivers safe, not to cause more accidents. Only activate them when your car has become a potential hazard on the road due to forces beyond your control.

Hazard lights aren’t a park anywhere button in the eyes of the law, and you could be fined if you use them recklessly.

a dimly lit car dashboard with a hazard light button lit up in the top right hand corner

 

This post shouldn’t be regarded as legal advice. Check that this information applies to your circumstances by speaking with your local road authority.