To flash your lights or not to flash your lights – that is the question

October 6, 2014

It is quite common for drivers to flash their lights at oncoming vehicles in an attempt to warn their fellow road users of a nearby speed camera. It’s so commonplace in fact, that many would consider it customary to do so. This type of warning may have saved you hundreds of dollars and kept you from losing demerit points or maybe it just served as a friendly and much appreciated reminder to slow down and take care on the roads. Maybe you have even been the one behind the wheel, flashing your lights at other drivers to alert them of police presence in the area. But could this type of comradery amongst road users be illegal?

Firstly, it should be noted that road rules and regulations are policed at a State-based level and therefore may vary between States. The answer is somewhat problematic. Although there is no set rule in Victoria against flashing fellow drivers for the purpose of alerting them to speed cameras or police presence, it is an offence for a driver to use the vehicle’s headlights on high-beam if the driver is driving within 200 metres of an oncoming vehicle.[1] It is also an offence to use your car lights to, or in a way that is likely to, dazzle other road users.[2] These rules have been used in the past to fine drivers flashing their lights to indicate the presence of a speed camera and similar rules in other States are still used in this way.

Despite the possibility of being fined, many motorists continue to uphold the tradition because of a widely held belief that speed cameras are nothing more than a means of raising revenue. It is not hard to understand why speed cameras are perceived this way when you take a look at the figures. During the 2012-2013 financial year the revenue raised by speed cameras in Victoria alone totalled a massive $293 million.[3]

In an attempt to promote transparency and public confidence in speed cameras, the Department of Justice launched the Cameras Save Lives website, defending the use of speed cameras and saying that they are first and foremost about safety. ‘Speed cameras make our roads safer. They’ve reduced crashes at intersections by 47% and have helped cut our road toll by a third, saving thousands of lives.’[4] The validity of speed cameras is further supported by the TAC statistics which show that apart from occasional spikes and increases, the overall road fatality rate for the past decade is on the decline.[5] So if speed cameras are saving lives, are we simply aggravating the situation by assisting serial speeders to avoid getting caught?

Traffic Superintendent Dean McWhirter doesn’t think so. In a radio interview with 3AW late last year, that also featured in the Herald Sun, Superintendent McWhirter was quoted as saying in reference to this custom – ‘if that occurs I am comfortable with that because it means actually people are getting the message.’[6]

So it seems that it is ok to warn other drivers about the presence of a speed camera. Nonetheless, Victorians should be careful about whether they choose to do so because flashing your high-beam lights to an oncoming vehicle within 200 metres or “dazzling” other drivers may still attract a fine.


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