How to Use Road Flares

Proper road flare use can inform motorists that your vehicle is a roadway hazard. Learn how to safely place and light flares as warning devices.
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If your car breaks down on the roadway or you are involved in an incident, and otherwise cannot move your vehicle safely to its final destination or repair shop, road flares can help.
Road flares help oncoming traffic see a potential hazard in the road, such as a stopped vehicle. Whether you are stopped in the road or on the shoulder, the proper use of road flares can make the difference between safely having your vehicle fixed or towed or having a potentially deadly crash.
In this three-part article, learn how to properly set up road flares. Part 1 discusses the importance of having the right equipment, Part 2 shares finding a good spot to place your flare(s), and Part 3 goes over the steps to light a road flare properly.

Part 1 of 3: Have the right equipment

To use road flares during an emergency, you must first have them with you. Road flares should be a part of your emergency kit that is kept in every vehicle. If you do not have road flares, you can purchase them online or at your local auto parts store.
With advancements in LED lighting technology, newer options include non-incendiary flares. Some of the more popular flares include:
Or, you can still utilize traditional emergency flares, which require no battery power but must be handled very carefully to avoid possible burns to yourself and others. Watch out for expiration dates. Flares typically are only good for four years and expired flares should not be lit or used. Expired flares should be disposed of safely at a hazardous waste station.

Part 2 of 3: Place the flares

Before you light any flares, you need to locate a place to put it. You want the flare to alert other passing motorists that there is an accident, stalled car, or other object coming up. Be sure to find a spot for your flare on a level surface in a visible spot to oncoming motorists.
If possible, pull your car as far over to the side of the road as possible. Also, turn on your hazard lights to help warm oncoming traffic of your stopped vehicle.
For the best placement of your flares to ensure oncoming motorists are aware of your stopped vehicle, take your flares and place the first one about 15 feet behind your vehicle. Depending on how many flares you have, place at least two more behind the first flare at 30-foot increments. If you are on a two-lane road or highway, it is recommended to place one flare about about 15 feet ahead of your car to help warm any oncoming traffic approaching from the other direction.
You can also use warning triangles for additional help in warning oncoming traffic when you do not have flares, or enough flares, for best placement.

Part 3 of 3: “Light” the flare

Turning on a non-incendiary flare is simple, just follow these two steps:
Step 1 of 2: Power up. Make sure you have spare batteries on hand. As it is not recommended to keep batteries inside a device when not in use, keep the batteries close to the flare. Install the batteries.
Step 2 of 2: Turn the “flare” on.
The use of a traditional flare requires caution. To use a traditional flare:, follow these four steps
Step 1 of 4: Remove the cap from the flare.
Step 2 of 4: Light the flare. Hold the flare facing away from you or others with a firm grip in the middle of the flare. Strike the end of the flare against the cap, the same as you would light a match (still pointing away from you and others at all times). Be very careful with your lit flare and immediately place it on the ground away from anything that could catch fire.
Step 3 of 4: Make sure the flare is out. It is important to never leave a flare lit in the roadway once your vehicle is fixed or moved. If you have a digital flare, pick them up and turn them off. For traditional flares, be sure the flares have gone out completely (you can use water but NEVER step on a lit flare to put it out).
Step 4 of 4: Dispose of used flares. Safely dispose of used traditional flares. Flares cannot be thrown away in your household trash. You will need to dispose of used or expired flares in a hazardous waste disposal area.
Using roadside flares can help keep you, and the motoring public, safer during the event of an accident or breakdown while on the roadway. Reduce the damage to yourself and your vehicle after an incident through the proper use of road flares.

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