Do You Know What These Warning Lights On Your Dash Mean?



In a recent survey, just 7% of drivers said they were extremely confident in their ability to correctly identify all warning lights in their vehicle. - Photo: Automotive Fleet

In a recent survey, just 7% of drivers said they were extremely confident in their ability to correctly identify all warning lights in their vehicle.


When warning lights illuminate on your fleet drivers’ dash, do they know what the symbols mean? Ignoring them can be dangerous.

A recent survey from car seat manufacturer Diono sheds light on which symbols U.S. drivers struggle the most to identify. While the survey was for consumers, the responses can reveal how commercial fleet drivers may also struggle to properly understand or respond their vehicle’s dashboard warning lights.

Why Understanding Warning Lights is Important

Confusion about dash symbols could lead to increased road mishaps and highlights a critical gap in automotive safety education. 

The study asked 2,000 U.S drivers a series of questions to assess how well they recognize and react to the array of symbols that flash across their dashboards. Drivers were also asked to correctly identify some of the most common warning lights.

Just 7% of drivers said they were extremely confident in their ability to correctly identify all warning lights in their vehicle.

When asked ‘What would you do if a warning light came on and you didn’t know what it meant?’, the study showed an alarming number of drivers would choose to try ignore the problem:

  • 15% would stop their vehicle immediately if a warning light appeared, demonstrating a cautious approach.
  • 19% would keep driving and hope the issue went away, risking potential damage.
  • 34% would call someone like a family member, or Google it to understand the warning,
  • 27% would head straight to an auto repair shop,
  • 5% admit they would ignore the light unless something else seemed wrong.

“Drivers understanding what the warning signs on their vehicles mean could be the difference between life and death, for you, your passengers, or other road users,” Diono CEO Tim Maule said. “These warning signs are there for your safety and should never be ignored. If one comes on, don’t ignore it. If you don’t know what a warning sign means, either refer to your car manual or take a picture and check it with Google or ChatGPT to be told what it means then seek expert mechanical help if appropriate.”

When asked if they had ever ignored a warning light, over half of drivers said no, but 35% said they had ignored one at least once. When asked why, a fifth of those drivers said they didn’t know what the warning light meant.

Findings Reveal Dashboard Literacy is Somewhat Lacking

Despite not being confident in their ability to correctly identify warning lights, a large amount of respondents still chose the correct option for nine common symbols in the multiple choice survey. The graphic below shows how many people correctly identified each symbol.


A list of dash symbols is pictured, with only one symbol having less than 50% of respondents correct: the 'Fog Lights On' light.

The survey revealed at least half of survey respondents could properly identify eight out of nine common dash symbols.

Source: Diono


The symbol most correctly identified was the ‘Air Bag Warning’ light, which indicates a problem with the vehicle’s air bag system. A total of 89% of respondents correctly identified it. Behind that was the ‘Brake Warning’ light, which indicates an issue with the brake system. Eighty percent of respondents correctly identified that symbol.

The ‘Fog Lights On’ light drew the lowest correct responses, with only 32% of people surveyed identifying it correctly.

The findings suggest that while cars are becoming more advanced, driver education on dashboard literacy is still somewhat behind, Diono stated in a news release.



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