You know the old Aussie tradition: see a cop car or unmarked speed camera and flash your headlights to warn other drivers. But is it legal? And when can you use your headlights legally? We give you the basics.
The legal purpose of headlights
According to Section 215 of the Australian Road Rules (2006), low-beam headlights must be used for driving at night or in hazardous conditions that cause reduced visibility – playing a clear role in avoiding and preventing accidents.
In fact, since the introduction of daytime running lamps (DRL) on vehicles in Australia, there has been a reduction of multiple vehicle injury accidents by up to 20 per cent and a reduction of fatal pedestrian accidents by up to 28 per cent.
However, when it comes to high-beam headlights, the road rules are stricter. This is because high-beam headlights have a stronger propensity to dazzle other road users, sometimes to the point of momentary blindness.
To flash or not to flash
While there is no specific road rule against flashing your lights with the purpose to warn other drivers, there are rules that can be (and often are) flexibly applied to the situation.
Therefore, it’s worth noting these rules and the fines that apply.
Flashing close to oncoming traffic
According to section 218 of the Australian Road Rules (2006), if you’re using high-beam headlights, you need to have at least a 200-metre buffer in front of your vehicle or any oncoming vehicle. However, if the driver is overtaking a vehicle, the driver may briefly switch the headlights from low-beam to high-beam immediately before the driver begins to overtake the vehicle.
Flashing to ‘dazzle’
Section 219 of the Australian Road Rules (2006) also prohibits you from flashing your lights to dazzle other road users.
If you get caught doing so in Victoria, you could face an on-the-spot fine of three penalty points ($455.01 as at 2015-16).
The Australian Road Rules are not necessarily followed to the letter by each state – they are part of a national scheme to provide uniform road laws throughout Australia. Each state and territory is governed by its own set of road rules and it's worth checking to see how the law is specifically applied in your state.
The Victorian government’s installation of concealed speed cameras in 2013 caused the media to raise the question of whether ‘flashing warnings’ to other road users would see more fines.
Victorian Police Traffic Superintendent Dean McWhirter responded by encouraging road users to continue the practice in the hopes that it would build awareness about those newly installed concealed cameras.
"If that occurs I am comfortable with that because it means actually people are getting the message [about the concealed speed cameras]," Supt McWhirter told the Herald Sun.
While that may have been the position in 2013 in Victoria, the situation now Australia-wide is uncertain and the practice is indeed a risky one.
If you are keen on warning other drivers without copping a fine, consider an alternative means of notifying road users, such as a wave, using your hazard lights or your low-beams so as not to ‘dazzle’ other drivers.
Or you could simply hope that they are paying as much attention to the road as you.