Contemporary Legend

Urban Legend

“If you flash your high beam four times when approaching an intersection, the light will change to green.”

Alison Ma told me this urban legend when we were driving around Irvine at 10 o’clock at night.  I was slowing down due to a red light and up ahead of us, we saw a few police cars with their lights on, parked on the side of the road because they just pulled someone over.  She said she heard that flashing the high beams to change the light to green when approaching an intersection was true from one of her friends.  The belief is that police use this trick.  Alison has not tried flashing her high beam four times to change the light.  She had also heard this urban legend from her dad, who heard it from a friend who supposedly heard this from a police officer.  Alledgely, the blinking of the high beam four times at a traffic light to turn it green is used by police cars, ambulances, etc. for emergencies.

Throughout history and in today’s society, people believe that they are some certain special people who are above the law.  Some of these special people are the wealthy, the celebrities, the politician and any other people that work with the law, such as policemen.  By assigning special powers to policeman, this urban legend fuels the belief that there are people in our society who are above the law.

The manner in which Alison learned about this urban legend is the classic way a legend is passed and spreads into a large one.  What the police officer told Alison’s dad’s friend could have been different from what Alison heard from her dad.  This is the reason why there could be several different urban legends surrounding policemen and their ability to control the traffic light.  For example, I have heard that instead of flashing the high beam four times to change the traffic light to green, flashing the high beam three times will change the traffic light.  It is curious that Alison told me that it requires four blinks of the head beam when the number three is the most popular number in Western and American cultures.  In most stories and folklore genres, there is a pattern of repeating things three times; therefore, it is interesting that the number four is used instead of three.  Possibly, if it is true that flashing the high beam a certain number of times can change the traffic light green, then most people would guess and try it using three flashes; therefore, to make it so the common people will not use this trick, policeman require four flashes, one more flash than what most people would do.