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driving concerns

If the car in front of you in the left lane is going 10-20 km/h slower than the speed of traffic, isn't it the rule of thumb to flash your high beams to let them know they need to move over to let everyone pass? Back in the 70s and 80s drivers would often flash their lights at slow motorists, but in the '90s were drivers scared flashing high beams would signal a gang member in a surrounding car and they would shoot you? — Jennifer, Toronto

Under the law in Ontario, there's no signal for "Get the hell out of my way."

"The Drivers Handbook doesn't say you can flash your lights to get other drivers to clear a path for you," said Angelo DiCicco, General Manager with Greater Toronto Area section of Young Drivers of Canada. "When you're following somebody who's going too slow for you, you could get close or you could flash your high beams because you want to teach them a lesson — but does that actually work on the road?"

There's no law that says a slower driver has to get out of the way if you're going faster than they are, whether you're flashing high beams or not.

"Yes, the law says slower traffic should keep right," DiCicco said. "You can't force someone to go faster then they're prepared to go by punishing them with your high beams."

There's no law specifically against flashing your high beams to signal anything to another driver — during the day.

But, if it's night and the the car you're following is less than 60 metres (about 12 car lengths) in front of you, police could charge you under section 168 of the Highway Traffic Act.

"This section aims to prevent drivers from unnecessarily blinding or 'dazzling' other drivers," said Ontario's Ministry of Transportation in an email. "The flashing of high beams in a manner consistent with the situations outlined in your enquiry may, based on the discretion of law enforcement, constitute a contravention of this section."

You can also be charged if you have your brights on within 150 metres of an oncoming car.

Light conversation?

Back in the days of key parties, the switch to turn on high beams was on the floor in most North American cars. Eventually, the switch was moved to the turn signal — and it let you flash lights without turning them on entirely.

Suddenly, you could spell "move it" in Morse code, if you wanted to. But that doesn't mean anybody else on the road will understand what you're trying to say, DiCicco says.

"In Europe it can signal that you're going to pass, but people from Europe coming over here and using that signal probably won't get that across," DiCicco said, "It's only effective as communication if it's understood — we have a lot of immigrants on the road and it's not in the Highway Traffic Act and it's not on the road test."

Flashing your high beams probably won't get you killed in a gang initiation — as that has never actually happened — but it could make both you and the guy in front of you makes unsafe decisions, DiCicco says.

"You might be confusing them or you might be pissing them off — all you're doing is annoying, distracting and putting yourself at higher risk," he said. "There might be a reason they're going slow — maybe they're driving with a spare, maybe they're on drugs."

It can be infuriating to be stuck behind a Sunday driver, DiCicco said, but the best thing to do is to back off and find a safe place to pass.

"The problem is in your head," he said. "It isn't the guy in front of you."

At least one government is working to crack down on slow drivers in the left lane. B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone said Monday he will introduce legislation to give police more ability to ticket drivers who are sitting in the left lane and not passing.

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