The in basket: Mason Mathews read in a previous Road Warrior column that honking one’s horn in frustration or anger, rather than to alert others to a danger, is illegal and commented, “Interesting. Is flashing your brights in these situations also illegal? Or are they only to be used for visibility when no traffic is in front?”
The out basket: Going briefly to high beams to get a driver ahead to move, move faster or move over isn’t as expressly illegal as honking for that purpose, but there is a law an officer could use to cite for it.
Trooper Russ Winger of the State Patrol here says RCW 46.37.230 says, “Whenever the driver of a vehicle approaches another vehicle from the rear within 300 feet such driver shall use a distribution of light permissible under this chapter other than the uppermost distribution of light.” That means high beams are not to be used when close behind another vehicle, though I imagine that law contemplates continuous use of the high beans, rather than flashing them.
Russ said that law “gives a framework for officers to use to enforce these type of actions. Is it a good idea to flash your high-beam lamps at other motorists?” he asked. “Not really. Is it legal? Not really.”
He goes on to say, “The WSP gets calls quite often from motorists calling in complaints about vehicles following too closely, flashing head lamps at them (presumably to get them to change lanes), sometimes honking the horn. These fall into the ‘aggressive driver’ and ‘road rage’ categories and as such the patrol discourages any of this type of behavior. In fact, our officers specifically seek out this type of driver behavior due to the potential dangers that they promote for all motorists.
“Patience, courtesy and common sense are not actual RCW’s, but they probably promote highway safety better than many actual laws,” Russ said.
So aggressive honking or flashing your lights at the very least can attract the attention of traffic officers who may follow you to watch for more dangerous behavior, like excessive speed, tailgating and risky lane changes.
I guess that just leaves turning your headlights off and then on again quickly, such as we do when we see a car approaching at night without its headlights on.