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The main purpose of your vehicle’s headlights is to improve visibility on the road when driving under low-light conditions. But using them isn’t just a suggestion—drivers are required by law to use their headlights during specific times of the day or under certain conditions.

Read on to make sure that you’re using your headlights correctly and as recommended by state laws.

car headlights on
Headlights are designed to improve visibility on the road when driving under low-light conditions.

When to Use Headlights

Headlights are essential tools for visibility. Most people use them only at night, but there are other instances when they can help you improve your experience on the road. Use them when:

Nighttime 

Driving with your headlights on at night is crucial to ensure the safety of not only you and your passengers, but also the pedestrians and drivers around you.

Note: At night, a driver should dim his headlights when an oncoming motor vehicle comes within 500-700 feet.

Bad Weather

This is the most common use of your headlights during the daytime. After all, low visibility doesn’t only happen at nighttime; it also pertains to any point or situation that impairs your vision, such as when it is cloudy, foggy, raining, or snowing. 

Use your low beam headlights during such instances. High beams can reflect light back to you during adverse weather conditions and cause glare, which can compromise your vision. 

To Make Other Drivers Aware of Your Presence

When you are traveling through mountain and rural roads, it is highly recommended that you keep your headlights on. This will help you counter the limited visibility and dangerous driving conditions brought about by narrow roads or uneven terrain. 

The light will make it easier for other drivers to spot you from a distance. 

Flashing your headlights under certain conditions will also help you get the attention of another driver who may not be aware of your presence.

There may be other functions of headlights that get hyped in box office hits. However, copying those stunts can be dangerous and must not be your goal in driving. Otherwise, you may endanger not only your life but also the lives of the people around you.

Headlight Use Laws Across the US

Almost every state implements its own laws regarding headlight use. The regulations can include everything from the exact time you should start using your headlights after sunset to the various weather conditions that require their use.

Because of the number of unique, state-specific headlight regulations, it can be difficult to remember all of them. Here’s a quick guide to the various headlight use laws across the US:

State Turn on your headlights…
Alabama When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
30 minutes after sunset
30 minutes before sunrise
Alaska When your speed exceeds 45 mph on designated highways
When visibility is less than 500 feet
Arizona When visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
Arkansas When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
California When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers continuously
During darkness
Colorado When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
Between sunset and sunrise
Connecticut When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Delaware When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
District of Columbia When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your windshield wipers
When going through tunnels
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Florida From sunset to sunrise
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
Georgia When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ before sunrise
Hawaii ½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Idaho When visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
Illinois When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
Indiana When visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
*You must only use white or amber headlights.
Iowa When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
Kansas When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your windshield wipers continuously to counter rain, sleet, or snow
During unfavorable atmospheric conditions (including fog or smoke) as well as insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
Kentucky *You must use high beams only at 350 feet or greater and low beams at 100 feet
Louisiana When visibility is limited to 500 feet
When using your wipers
During unfavorable atmospheric conditions as well as insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
Maine When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Maryland When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
Massachusetts When visibility is limited to 500 feet due to atmospheric conditions, such as fog, rain, and snow
When using your wipers
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Michigan When visibility is less than 500 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Minnesota During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light that limits visibility to 500 feet
During rain, snow, sleet, or hail
From sunset to sunrise
Mississippi When visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
Missouri When visibility is less than 500 feet
During weather conditions that require the use of windshield wipers to drive safety, including fog
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Montana When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Nebraska When visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
Nevada When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New Hampshire When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During inclement weather
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New Jersey When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
New Mexico When visibility is less than 500 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New York When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
During adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
North Carolina When visibility is limited to 400 feet due to insufficient light
When using your windshield wipers
From sunset to sunrise
North Dakota When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
Ohio When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
Oklahoma When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Oregon When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
From sunset to sunrise
Pennsylvania When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
When going through construction zones
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
*Remove snow and ice from your vehicle before driving.
Rhode Island When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
South Carolina When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
South Dakota When visibility is less than 200 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Tennessee When visibility is less than 200 feet
During rain, fog, or smoke
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Texas When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During nighttime
Utah When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
Vermont When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
Virginia When visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
Washington When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
West Virginia When visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
Wisconsin During hours of darkness
During period of limited visibility, unless you have daytime running lights
Wyoming When visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise

Do’s and Don’ts for Vehicle Lights

Here is a simple rundown on what you should and should not do while using your headlights and other vehicle lights on the road:

Do: Ensure your headlights (and all other lights) are functional before you drive.
Don’t: Drive without checking if key safety features of your vehicle are working.

Do: Make it a habit to turn your headlights off after a long drive.
Don’t: Forget to turn your headlights off overnight. This can drain your car’s battery and render it useless in the morning. Your car’s alternator only works when the engine is running.

Do: Get used to your headlight’s range, brightness, and accessibility.
Don’t: Drive your car without becoming familiar with its light fixtures and other features.

Do: Use your hazard lights conservatively, and only in times of real hazards.
Don’t: Abuse your hazard lights and park in illegal spaces.

driving with headlights on
Use your high beams for extra visibility at night when driving on a road with multiple twists and turns.

Do: Turn on your high beams when you need extra visibility, especially during nighttime, or while driving on a road with multiple twists and turns.
Don’t: Keep your high beams on when vehicles pass on the opposite lane. The brightness of your lights can temporarily blind drivers and cause accidents.

Note: High beam headlights must not be used within 500 feet of oncoming traffic or 200 feet behind another vehicle.

Following this list, using your headlights property, and taking note of state-specific laws will make you a better, safer, and more reliable driver. In parting, the best practices often come with politeness and proper regard for road regulations. Knowing and understanding that you’re not the only driver on the road will allow you to respect and empathize with your fellow drivers.

Get Your Headlights Installed. Get $100 Cash Back.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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Hands4

So the rule is simple: “At all times.”

Studies indicate using your headlights at all times reduces accidents. That’s common sense. Safety comes from seeing and being seen. This has been standard in many cars for over a decade. For example, my 2013 Subaru does this automatically; it has a setting to turn the headlights on whenever the key is in the ignition.

“1. Headlights/DRLs reduce your risks of daytime frontal collisions. Making yourself visible means you’re less likely to have a driver drift into your lane when approaching you.

2. Headlights reduce your risks of daytime rear-end collisions. If your taillights are lit up, you’re less likely to be rear-ended. Note that most DRLs don’t activate the taillights, so this is a headlight-specific advantage.”

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