Could Flashing Your Headlights at an Oncoming Car Lead to a Potentially Deadly Gang Initiation Rite?

Have you seen social media posts warning you not to flash your headlights at oncoming vehicles lest you become a target of gang violence? If so, you might be concerned. However, this story is an urban legend. Flashing your headlights at vehicles without their lights on won’t provoke a gang attack. Here’s more about this urban legend, its origins, and proper car safety etiquette.

The urban legend of the flashing headlights gang initiation

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Although several iterations of this story have made the rounds over the years, the basic premise is always the same, Reuters reports. The legend describes an initiation rite allegedly performed by new members of the Bloods, a Los Angeles-based gang. It states that new members drive around with their lights off and chase down and shoot the occupants of the first car to flash its headlights at them.

Recently, this story has appeared as a warning letter shared on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Though it certainly sounds alarming, this story has no basis in truth. In actuality, it’s stretching back several decades.

Where this story originated

The urban legend warning people not to flash their headlights has been around since at least 1998, when Snopes released a fact-check proving the story to be false. According to Snopes, the first print references of this legend date back to 1993. However, anecdotal evidence suggests it appeared even earlier, potentially in the early 1980s.

This story did not begin with the Bloods. Early versions of the legend first said it was an initiation rite performed by the Hell’s Angels bike gang. Snopes then tracks the legend to Oregon in 1984, at which point the story shifted to implicate LA street gangs.

Over the decades, this story has often appeared in chain emails or social media posts. It frequently claims the warning comes from police officers working with Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.). 

However, D.A.R.E. disputes this claim. Chief Operating Officer Richard Mahan told Reuters: “Neither I nor my six regional directors and vice president of regional operations, each of whom is a retired law enforcement officer, has ever heard of a D.A.R.E. officer issuing such a warning to his/her classes or to members of their community.”

Proper headlight flashing etiquette

Thankfully, flashing your headlights at an oncoming car won’t provoke gang violence. But should you be flashing your headlights at all? According to the New York Times, maybe not.

Logically, it makes sense to flash your headlights to let an oncoming car know their lights are off or high beams are on. Though there isn’t a universal rule about whether this is a good thing to do, the New York Times points out several reasons you might want to avoid doing it. And none of the reasons involves gang violence.

Flashing your high beams at someone risks temporarily blinding them in the darkness. Though this is dangerous no matter what, it’s particularly harmful if the driver in the oncoming vehicle is intoxicated. That’s because their vision will already be somewhat impaired.

Additionally, though flashing your headlights isn’t part of a gang initiation rite, it puts you at risk of something else: the moth effect. According to the New York Times, drivers may have trouble looking away from the bright lights and could end up accidentally driving straight toward your vehicle.

Overall, if you see a letter circulating on social media warning you of this false gang initiation rite, you can ignore it. However, it might be a good idea to avoid flashing your headlights at others regardless.