Russian Solidarity

I was driving on MassPike when, for no apparent reason, a car driving in the opposite direction started flashing its headlights. I remembered the Russian tradition of informing the oncoming traffic that the police are nearby. So I adjusted my speed and very soon I saw a police car. I got this warm feeling in my heart because I didn’t need to panic or check my speedometer. I mentally thanked that anonymous Russian driver and started wondering why the tradition had not been adopted in the USA. Is it because we are so responsible that we want to punish speeders, or do we think that the police are on our side?

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9 Comments

  1. Matt:

    I’ll go ahead and make a general statement to counter your general statement — anywhere there are cars, flashing the lights is used to indicate police ahead, as well as accidents ahead, or deer in the road, or hazardous conditions. There aren’t exactly many other ways for two drivers heading in the opposite direction to communicate. It is most certainly not an exclusively Russian habit.

    I will point out, however, that I am under the impression warning oncoming traffic of a speed trap is illegal in the U.S. I may be misinformed, and it certainly never stopped me from doing so.

  2. David Chen:

    This practice happens in the U.S. too, I’m pretty sure. People flash lights for speed traps where I come from, at least.

  3. Felipe Pait:

    A similar habit existed in Brazil during the dictatorship, and, I suppose, in other countries under repressive regimes. The police in America protects us against drivers speeding, and other dangerous practices. If you don’t like the law you are free to vote for change. This is why people move to the US from Europe, not the other way around.

  4. Thomas:

    The flashing of headlights to indicate “police ahead” was a tradition in the Midwestern United States, where I grew up and learned to drive. I often saw it done in the Washington DC area, where I lived for 40 years, though it was hit-and-miss there, probably because the residents of the DC area are more diverse in their origins than neighborly Midwesterners. I have seldom seen it done in the Austin TX area, where I live now, probably for the same reason — you will be hard-pressed to find a true Texan in Austin.

  5. Brenda:

    It used to be common in the US as well, until police began pulling over drivers who gave the warning. I haven’t seen it done for awhile now, but it used to be fairly normal.

  6. Eric:

    I sometimes falsely warn others because I just want them to slow down. There are a lot of school zones in my area and people need to get tickets for speeding.

    @Matt: I’ve heard it’s illegal, too, but I have no idea if it’s true. It seems rather ridiculous if you think about it.

  7. colorblind:

    My parents, midwesterners, were well aware of the practice. I myself have only rarely seen it used. My understanding is also that the use of such signals is now considered illegal.

    There is a wiki page on the phenomenon and its legality, which evidently varies from state to state. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headlight_flashing
    In particular I find interesting the statement, “The use of headlight flashing has been questioned as an effective communication tool between drivers; the ability of drivers to communicate with one another is estimated to be the same as the communication abilities among insects.” (It’s even sourced!)

    Of course, I’ve heard of the flashing of headlights in a different context: http://www.snopes.com/crime/gangs/lightsout.asp

  8. Andrew MW:

    It’s done here in NZ too, though only sporadically.

  9. Christopher:

    Headlight flashing to warn oncoming drivers of speed traps and other hazards has been standard practice in Ohio since at least the late 60’s to the early 70’s. I know this because I myself witnessed both my Father and Grandfather participate in this, and many other types of auto-to-auto, non-verbal communication. I posit that Ohio may be ahead of the curve in this area.