Everything You Need to Know About Road Flares

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Road flares alert oncoming traffic to a hazard, like debris from an accident or a disabled vehicle. While law enforcement often uses them, all drivers should consider adding flares to their car emergency kit.
Beyond your safety on the road, you’ll want to think about protecting your finances in case your car sustains damage in an accident. Use the car super app Jerry to find cheap car insurance so you won’t have to overpay for the coverage you need.
Here’s an overview of what road flares do, how long they last, and how they can help keep you (and others!) safe.

When to use road flares 

If your car breaks down on the side of the road, you can use the bright lights of road flares to tell oncoming traffic to slow down and help emergency personnel find you quickly.
Flares are especially useful to create a visual barrier in a few circumstances:
  • If you break down at night
  • If you’re on a low-visibility curve
  • If the road doesn’t have a wide shoulder 
Sometimes, a smartphone is all you need to access emergency help. After all, you can use it to call 911, contact roadside assistance, and let your loved ones know you’re safe. 
But if your phone dies or you’re stranded in an area without cell service, you’ll want to carry a physical device like roadside flares for an old-fashioned SOS. 
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How to place highway flares

Especially on highways where drivers pass your vehicle at high speeds, it’s important to know how to set up your flares safely and effectively. 
You’ll want to light the flares and place them along the road leading up to your vehicle on the inside. 
Consider the type of road you’re on and the speed limit—cars need to see your flares and have enough time to slow down before they reach your vehicle. The faster cars are traveling, the farther apart you’ll want to space the flares.
  • If the speed limit is less than 50 mph, the distance between flares should be the equivalent of the speed limit times four (in feet)
  • If the speed limit is higher than 50 mph, the distance should be the equivalent of the speed limit times four, plus 100
If you purchase a roadside flare kit, you’ll likely have access to flares, safety cones, and/or stand-up triangles. Triangles are a helpful addition (or alternative) because they’re easy to set, usually have reflectors, and are weighted so as not to blow around. 
Pro Tip Be extremely careful when placing flares or safety triangles on the side of the highway. Don’t run out to place or retrieve them unless you’re certain it’s safe to do so. 

How long do road flares last? 

Depending on your needs, you can find flares that last anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 hours (or more). In most cases, you’ll only need flares that last up to 30 minutes.
You can still find traditional flares that have a real flame and can be lit like a match (sometimes called fuseés), though many people now opt for battery-operated LED flares that come in canister or disc shapes. 

How to use road flares

Traditional flares

A fuseé usually looks like a red stick with a white cap on the end. Remove the cap and strike the stick as you would light a match.
As it ignites, avoid looking directly at the flame or inhaling the smoke (it’s full of chemicals). Note that the flame is also hot enough to melt certain metals and can cause severe burns
Carefully place the flare into the ground using support devices or stands from the kit, if you have them.  

LED safety flares

If you don’t feel comfortable using traditional flares, LED safety flares are a newer and safer alternative. They are battery-powered, which means they last much longer than traditional flares.
Some LED flares come as discs rather than sticks and have multiple settings, like the option to switch between constant and flashing lights. 
You can find LED flares that last anywhere from 15 minutes to 40+ hours. 

Be prepared for emergencies with the right car insurance

Items like roadside flares are instrumental for keeping you and your passengers safe in a roadside emergency—but it’s best to protect yourself and your car financially, too. 
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You can buy flares online using a general site like Amazon or a safety equipment site like Grainger or Traffic Safety Warehouse. 
They’re also available in person at car equipment or hardware stores like Autozone, Ace Hardware, and Home Depot.
Instead of traditional or LED flares, you can use safety triangles or cones to alert oncoming traffic to your vehicle. These aren’t as bright as flares, but many have reflective exteriors that make them noticeable.

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