Nowadays it seems common practice for drivers to flash their headlights at other drivers, often to allow them to pull out from a parked position, a queue of traffic or a side road.
There are also other instances in which flashing headlights are used. Drivers sometimes flash their lights to say “thank you” when another driver has given them right of way, and some drivers flash their lights to warn other drivers of hazards or even police presence.
A number of people will also be able to relate to the driver behind them flashing their lights aggressively, which is simply a direct message to say “move out of the way!”
What is the Legal Position?
The Highway Code provides:
110 – Flashing head lights. Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.
111 – Never assume that flashing head lights is a symbol inviting you to proceed. Use your own judgment and proceed carefully.
In the case of Clarke v Winchurch (1969), a bus driver stopped to allow a car to drive out from a line of parked cars. The bus driver flashed his headlights and, as the car driver pulled out, a moped that was riding to the offside of the bus, and who was not seen by the bus driver, collided with the car as he drove past the bus.
While the bus driver had looked in the mirror he had simply not seen the moped rider. The court accepted that the car driver was only crawling out at a very low speed. Following the trial, the bus driver was found to have been 1/3 liable for the collision and the moped driver was found to be 2/3 liable.
The decision went to the Court of Appeal who held that the moped driver was 100% to blame. In considering their judgement, the court stated that motorcyclists and cyclists are entitled to overtake stationary traffic, but they must ensure that a high degree of care is undertaken so that any emergency situation can be dealt with. Whilst on appeal the moped was considered 100% to blame, one of the dissenting judges would have apportioned 20% blame to the car driver.
Since the Clarke v Winchurch decision, there have been a number of reported cases involving collisions where drivers have flashed their lights to give other drivers right of way.
The circumstances behind road traffic accident claims will vary from case to case, but courts will consider the relevant sections of the Highway Code. They will also consider the question of whether or not the potential for the collision was seen by the driver who flashed his headlights, the speed travelled at, the road conditions and whether or not the collision could have been avoided.
Gurdeep Chayra is an Associate Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK and heads up the road traffic collision team in Birmingham.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation for anyone injured in a road traffic accident through no fault of their own.
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