The Moth Effect -- The Frightening Draw Of Emergency Lights For Other Vehicles

Posted on: 19 January 2017

It happens with surprising and frightening frequency. It is night. And a car has broken down on the shoulder or has pulled over due to poor driving conditions. Its flashers are on to alert other vehicles. In some cases, a police officer may already be on the scene with its lights turned on. Everyone believes they have done what they can to alert other drivers that there is a vehicle stopped on the side of the road. But then a car or -- even worse -- a semi-truck barrels into the stalled vehicle, injuring, and sometimes killing, those unlucky enough to be on the scene. If you or a loved one has ever been injured in such an accident, you were probably perplexed as to how the other party missed the flashing lights and the fact that you were stopped and not moving. 

The Moth Effect

Have you ever watched moths dancing around a lamp or even flying into a fire? Even when it proves fatal, moths just seem to be irresistibly drawn to bright lights. Interestingly enough, some experts actually believe that the reason why drivers run into stopped vehicles and police cars that have their lights flashing is because -- just like moths -- they are attracted to the bright spots in the darkness. In the dark of night or during stormy weather, drivers trying to navigate may fixate on the bright lights and head straight towards them. And in the darkness, a driver may also assume that the stopped vehicle with its lights on is moving at the same speed as he is. Unfortunately, by the time the driver realizes their mistake, they may already be barreling into the stopped vehicle. This phenomenon is known as the moth effect

As dangerous as the moth effect can be, it's even worse if a driver's reaction times are impaired either by drinking or because they are tired. It is also particularly dangerous for police officers as studies have shown that motorists sometimes mistake the flashing red lights of a police car for vehicle taillights. That is one reason why some police departments have begun using blue lights instead of red.   


If you have to pull over at night or during inclement weather, you should:

Get off of the road, if at all possible. The shoulder can be a very dangerous spot as other drivers, especially if they're impaired or distracted, may believe you are in a lane and moving. So if you can, find the nearest exit, and get off of the road entirely. 

Pull as far over as possible. If you have no choice and must stop on the side of the road, you should pull as far off on the shoulder as you can. 

Put your flashers on. Yes, there is a possibility that a motorist may fall victim to the moth effect, but it is still much safer for you to have your flashers on to warn other drivers that you are stopped on the side of the road. You should also put your interior light on.

Do not exit your vehicle or attempt to fix your vehicle if you have pulled over to the shoulder. Getting out of your car could potentially put you in harm's way. 

What to Do if You Are Hit

If you have already been injured in an accident that you believe may have been caused by the moth effect, you should contact a personal injury lawyer from a firm like Blomberg Benson & Garrett who may be able to help you recover for:

  • Your medical costs
  • Lost wages and loss of future earnings
  • Pain and suffering

Fortunately, most drivers realize the difference between the flashing lights of a stopped vehicle and the taillights of a moving vehicle. But if you should be injured in an accident with a driver who has fallen under the spell of the moth effect, legal action may be your best course of action.