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Blinkin' In The Rain: Florida Bill Would Allow Hazard Lights In Stormy Weather

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

You might not know it, but this...

(SOUNDBITE OF HAZARD LIGHTS BLINKING)

CHANG: ...Is the sound of a hotly debated issue in Florida.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hazard lights and whether to use them when you're driving in the rain. Here's Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower.

LAWRENCE MOWER: You know, should you do it? Are you allowed to do it or not? If you just do a Google search for hazard lights in the rain in Florida, you'll see story after story about, you know, people and articles saying, no, this is illegal.

SHAPIRO: The law there currently says you are not allowed to use your hazards while your car is in motion unless you're in a funeral procession.

CHANG: But tucked discreetly into a 38-page transportation bill are two lines that will change that. If the governor signs the bill very soon, Floridians will be able to throw on those flashers with verve.

SHAPIRO: As long as they're on a road with a posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour or higher and visibility is extremely low.

CHANG: (Laughter) Now, it is true many in Florida already do this. Mower says that's why Republican State Senator Ed Hooper backed the measure.

MOWER: He said, you know, we've all been in this situation where we got the death grip on the wheel and we're driving 30 miles - 30 miles an hour down the highway, can't see left or right or in front of us or behind us. And he said that he's used his hazard lights in those situations even though you're not supposed to.

CHANG: But not everyone is happy.

SHAPIRO: Matt Willhite is the Democratic state representative from the 86th District, and he opposes the change.

MATT WILLHITE: They don't give you more visibility. They just make you feel better because you think that there's a low visibility on the freeway. And so I don't think there - I think in a sense they're giving some people some false sense of security that it's helping them as well. I think it's putting them at more risk.

CHANG: And there may be something to that argument. Last year, six people were injured in a three-car pileup that may have been due to a driver with hazards on, according to Florida Highway Patrol. They said the flashing lights can distract other drivers, obscure brake lights and override turn signals.

SHAPIRO: Lawrence Mower, the Tampa Bay Times reporter, isn't predicting a lot will change with the new law.

MOWER: There's other states that allow the use of hazard lights. I don't know if it's going to be a huge difference for the practical driver in Florida, but I do think that, you know, this is a very popular topic of conversation.

SHAPIRO: The law's slated to go into effect July 1.

CHANG: I'm going to hazard a guess, though, Ari, that Floridians will keep doing what they are doing and keep on arguing about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE LIMINANAS'S "(I'VE GOT) TROUBLE IN MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.