Nfld. & Labrador

Even when flashing your high beams is legal, police say it might be a bad idea

Whatever your reason for flashing your high beams, there are rules to follow.

Legality comes down to distance, but not all situations are created equal, RCMP says

This car's high-beam lights are activated. It's important to know when you are legally allowed to have yours on. (David Bell/CBC)

Even though it's legal to flash your lights to warn other motorists of a moose ahead — or a cop — an RCMP officer says there's a difference between what's allowed and what's advisable.

"What happens when you flash is you switch from low beam to high beam. The key is the distance that you are from an oncoming vehicle," David Bourden, acting sergeant for RCMP traffic services in Holyrood, told Newfoundland Morning.

If lights are flashed at a safe distance — farther than 150 metres away from an oncoming vehicle, under the Highway Traffic Act — it's legal to do so regardless of your reason for flashing, Bourden said.

Moose alert

Want to warn motorists that there's a moose ahead? Great — just be mindful of the distance, he said.

"You can use your high-beam lights but once you get within 150 metres of an oncoming vehicle you have to ensure that your lights are on low beam only," Bourden said.

Using high-beam lights too close to another vehicle is both distracting and bad for the other driver's visibility, and can actually make the situation more dangerous, he said.

This is an image captured from the dashcam footage of a moose collision. It's OK to flash your headlights to warn others of moose on the roads, as long as you are far enough away from the oncoming car. (Jason Spurrell)

"They look towards the lights, they're blinded by those lights, and then they don't see the actual moose itself," he said.

Of course, it's not always easy to know if you're too close.

"No one's out there with a measuring tape," he said. Best practice? Err on the side of caution.

But even though there are times the RCMP is fine with drivers flashing their lights — when distance allows — there are other times when they would really rather you didn't.

Speed traps

Not many drivers still flash their lights to warn other vehicles of a police presence, said Bourden, but it still happens. He acknowledged that it's allowed by law when the other car is farther than 150 metres away, but said that doesn't mean drivers should do it.

"It's not illegal to do that but you've got to understand that oftentimes, police are on the highway trying to protect all motorists from injury and harm," he said.

Sometimes police may be out for speed and traffic enforcement, Bourden said, but there are also times when they are on the road because of a more serious incident or in order to apprehend someone in particular who is suspected of a crime.

Alerting that person to police ahead could either help them evade capture, or put an officer's safety at risk. It would be a stretch to call that a crime, he said, but he would rather motorists didn't do it.

"I certainly wouldn't want to be the person responsible for that situation getting worse than what it is."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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