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What Are Road Flares?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2014
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Road flares are a piece of safety equipment used to alert people to hazards in the road such as closed lanes, accidents, fallen trees, and other issues. Law enforcement officers, ambulances, and fire trucks typically carry road flares as part of their emergency response kit, and motorists can carry flares as well. Sources for road flares include auto safety catalogs, automotive stores, and catalogs which carry equipment and supplies used by emergency responders.

The road flare consists of an insulated stick which carries explosive material. When the flare is activated, typically by pulling a tab, the fuse on the end of the flare lights, and it will remain lit for 15-20 minutes, depending on the flare's manufacture. Substances can be added to the flare to make it burn red, green, blue, or yellow, and the flare may include safety measures such as a spark deflector or roll prevention stand to avoid causing a fire.

The light emitted by road flares is extremely bright, to make it visible from a great distance and in conditions with poor visibility. Safety recommendations for road flares usually include laying several in a row to attract the attention of oncoming traffic, and collecting the flares after they burn out for proper disposal, since they can be hazardous. It is also important to store road flares in a cool, dry place away from light, and many companies sell their flares in protective containers for this purpose.

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Individual drivers can set flares after an accident, to alert oncoming traffic to the fact that there is an obstacle in the road. Flares should be laid in the lane of the accident in both directions to avoid confusing drivers, and it is important to exercise caution when setting out flares, to avoid being struck by cars. Emergency responders set road flares to indicate road closures, alert drivers to obstacles in the road, and to map out approaches for emergency responders arriving by air; for this reason, people should not disturb road flares.

When drivers see that flares have been set, they should slow down until they know why the flares are in place. If a lane is closed and someone is directing traffic around an accident or ordering drivers to detour, they should do so in a sedate manner, remaining aware of risks such as approaching traffic which may be speeding, or traffic from side roads which may not be expecting cars. Drivers who carry flares for safety should make sure that they are stored in a secure place in the vehicle, such as inside an under-the-seat safety kit.

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