If you haven’t heard stories of unusually bad things that happen when a car flashes its high beams at other cars at night, this might make you paranoid the next time you’re alone on the road or a parking lot.
In some cities, there’s been so many stories that it’s already become an urban legend.
Headlight flashing is done for a number of valid reasons: This is what drivers do to make other drivers aware of their presence; it is also used as a signal that the flashing driver is yielding the right of way; this flashing also warns about road dangers, can be used to give thanks, and inform other drivers of problems with their car.
If you encounter someone flashing their headlights behind you it can also that they intend overtake or pass over you. The same way, it is also used to signal a driver who has just overtaken that he or she can now return to the original lane. Flashing can request or insist that a leading driver speed up or change lanes to get out of.
The stories that have caused alarm for some riders date back to the early 90’s. It probably started when reports of a gang initiation ritual became prevalent in Stockton, California. The hoodlums piled in a car, at night, and drive the highways and byways with their lights off.
The first person who ‘flashed’ them with their lights, which is another way of saying ‘hey, idiot, your lights are off!’ became their prey. Then they pursued the ‘good samaritan’ and the initiate would have to do the worse thing imaginable.
As an initiate, he must do what the gang tells him to do. This incident story has run rampant in virtually every major U.S. city since then, eventually this sparked public panics and police investigations.
In 1993, California school secretary Kelly Freed, a passenger in an automobile whose driver gestured at a car full of teenagers to inform them that their headlights were off became a victim of such an ‘initiation’. Mistaking the hand signal as an insult, one of the teens did this to the car Freed was riding in.
Police determined that none of the youths were gang members, nor was the incident connected with an “initiation rite.”
Later on, this came to be known as the “Lights Out” legend, when it spread in emails and also appeared in October 1998, perhaps inspired by the release of the popular horror film Urban Legend.
Still, these accounts have never been actually been confirmed by police as fact. But one police officer working with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program at an elementary school passed this warning on…
“If you’re ever driving after dark and see an on-coming car with no headlights turned on, DO NOT flash your lights at them! This is a common gang member “initiation game” that goes like this: the new gang member under initiation drives along with no headlights and the first car to flash their headlights at him is now his “target”. He is now required to turn around and chase that car and shoot at or into the car in order to complete his initiation requirements. Make sure you share this info with all the drivers in your family!! Stay safe!!”
The online alerts resulted in a new wave of concerned inquiries to police departments in cities and towns throughout the U.S., many of which were already aware of the rumour by then but didn’t really have much information to prove or disprove it.
However in November 1998, John Moore, senior research associate at the National Youth Gang Center based in Tallahassee, denied that the “Lights Out” legend is true: “I know of no incident in the country where this type of thing occurred,” he told a reporter for the Washington Post that this was to the best of his knowledge.
The urban legend of ruthless things that happen when a car flashes its high beams at other cars have been around for so long that people don’t believe it anymore. But for one South Carolina woman, it just became too real.
The woman who recalls her frightful experience asked for her identity to remain anonymous, as she was worried for her safety. She claimed she was sitting in her car in the parking lot of a Walmart in Newport, a couple of days before Christmastime. All of a sudden, the unimaginable happened.
A car pulled up in the parking spot directly in front of her. She didn’t think much of it as there were several shoppers coming and going home. She just thought they were also shoppers heading to their cars on the way home.
It would have appeared normal if not for what they did next: they turned on their car’s high beams. In an instant, she was blinded by the light which forced her to do what she was about to do next.
She couldn’t see anything because of the blinding light. Confused as to what was going on, she did not know what to do.
She was beginning to feel the tension when the car’s occupants were getting out of their vehicle. She began getting nervous, even more when she realized the figures were already out of their car.
The figures emerging from the vehicle were that of two men, wearing hoodies with the hood pulled down past their eyes. She could barely see their faces.
As she was paralyzed with fear, they were slowly walking towards her direction. She was afraid they were going to reach towards this.
She remembered the urban legends they called “Lights Out”. She heard about it and read things on the internet. She recalls how she never really believed those sorts of stories.
This would have been an exception. As the men were nearing her, she regretted not believing the alerts and having avoided the situation that she was about to be in. She tried recalling those warning signs but just couldn’t because of the moment and was left unaware what to do next.
The anonymous woman in the story who have just finished her shift at the nearby mall could only find time to do her Christmas shopping after 10pm.
She’s had her Christmas list for several days but never ever had the time to finish it. As Christmas day was nearing, she realized she needed to finish her list two days before the holidays if she were to put presents in their tree in time.
Walmart at Newport had advertised midnight sales two days before Christmas day. She was determined to catch it and save money to get her kids more treats.
There weren’t a lot of people shopping, probably because they all had finished their shopping before the store announced about the sale. Anyway, it was still a chance to catch up on her shopping, so she went in that night.
Afterwards, she headed to her car. The parking lot had just been shovelled up and all the snow was piled up close to the entrance. She had no choice but to park further outside with fewer cars around.
She walked out to her car and was heading home. It seemed like nobody else was in the parking area except a lone car parked across of hers. She had no idea what was about to happen next.
The fear from the horrific incident kept the woman in shock for days. She didn’t tell her family, except a co-worker. The woman’s co-worker then wrote a post on Facebook detailing what had happened to her friend that night outside Walmart.
She posted it, knowing it was the holiday season and many people were out and about, that she had to warn others about these strange men to make sure everyone stayed safe. Her post soon went so viral, it caught the attention of law enforcement.
The police never had any reports claiming of any flashing headlights in the years after the first hoax. Once they saw the post the woman’s co-worker shared on Facebook, they sought her and reached out to hear her side.
Upon finding the victim’s co-worker, and getting the whole story from her, they opened up an investigation of the incident. They worked to find surveillance video of the day in question from the Walmart parking lot. Once they had it, what they saw confirmed their worst fears.
The police realized this could be a legitimate threat compared to the hoaxes that they had to disprove. They managed to secure surveillance video from Walmart’s parking lot on the night the women claimed it happened.
It showed a parked vehicle flashing its high beams at the car in front of it, followed by two men getting out of the car. They were expecting more from the video as it showed what transpired next.
Unfortunately, the video was not clear enough to identify the suspects or the vehicle’s license plates. They were at a dead end.
They would need to keep investigating, but they still had to alert the community of the danger. The police felt the men would still be a threat to other drivers in parking lots.
As a precaution, police started suggesting drivers to stay in their cars and call them or leave that spot. Should the car start to follow them, they recommend going to either a well-lit establishment or the nearest police agency.
They had concerns that the men who were about to walk towards the woman’s car had only one thing in mind. They must have been right.
The holiday season has always brought shoppers out to do some late shopping. They could easily be prey for these perpetrators.
Prevention is always key, and the best way to avoid such incidents is to remain vigilant.
Police told NBC Charlotte that after this incident and especially during the holiday season, they encourage people to avoid sitting in their cars alone, and to not get distracted at all times.
Keeping car doors locked is also crucial, as the Walmart incident demonstrates. But they also wanted people to know they can always count on the police department.
Back to the night of the incident when she encountered that horrifying figures, the woman recalls every single moment. Before she knew it, each of the men was standing beside her car, one by the passenger’s door and the other by hers.
She put her car in gear and immediately backed out of the parking spot. Then she saw them reaching for her door handles, she almost froze.
She locked her doors, sped away and didn’t look back. But the incident left her shaken. She was left perplexed, and still unsure of what exactly had happened which was why she decided not to call the police fearing they knew what she looked like.
Shaken by the incident, she decided to leave the state for a while, and go stay with family. The experience was only shared with a co-worker, who was the one who warned the community through Facebook.
The police’s investigation revealed that it was possible that the perpetrators were trying to get the woman out of her vehicle and do the unthinkable.
The men would have been trying to entice her to get out of the car. Fortunately, she still had the mindfulness to speed away which saved her life.
The Rock Hill Police Department whose attention was caught by the Facebook post started to get concerned. Although stories about flashing high beams were not new, they didn’t want to take any chances.
This prompted them initially to check their records to see if a 911 call had been made about the incident, unfortunately there weren’t any at all. They decided to put a call out for information on their Facebook page. But not everybody took it seriously.
Police warns, “If you ever feel like you’re in an unsafe situation, don’t think you’re bothering us. That’s what we’re here for, we’re here to help.”
This police department seems to be taking the right steps when dealing with high beam incidents, but that can’t be said of all law enforcement agencies. These incidents are still not taken seriously and continues on till this day.
Many people who read the police department’s post didn’t even think the story was real. They claimed it was a hoax and mocked the police for falling for it, like so many other urban legends.
But others believed the account and shared the post in an effort to help. This was in the hope they could get others to tell their stories as well.
Still not all drivers who encounter these headlights end up feeling safe. Once, a driver in Alberta was driving when an oncoming car seemed to have its high beams on. He flashed his own in turn, hoping to warn the car to shut them off.
Unknown to the driver who returned the flash, the other vehicle was a sheriff’s car, and it immediately turned around and pulled him over. He gave the man a ticket for failing to use low-beam headlights when an oncoming vehicle is within 300 meters.
As for the woman in the Walmart parking lot, she’s recovered from the shock ever since and have taken all the safety precautions to avoid the incident from happening again.
Thankfully, now more people know about it and can also protect themselves from getting into such a dangerous situation.