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When Should You Use Your Headlights?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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…
AlabamaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
30 minutes after sunset
30 minutes before sunrise
AlaskaWhen your speed exceeds 45 mph on designated highways
When visibility is less than 500 feet
ArizonaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
ArkansasWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
CaliforniaWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers continuously
During darkness
ColoradoWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
Between sunset and sunrise
ConnecticutWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
DelawareWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
District of ColumbiaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your windshield wipers
When going through tunnels
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
FloridaFrom sunset to sunrise
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
GeorgiaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ before sunrise
Hawaii½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
IdahoWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
IllinoisWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
IndianaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
*You must only use white or amber headlights.
IowaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
KansasWhen 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
LouisianaWhen visibility is limited to 500 feet
When using your wipers
During unfavorable atmospheric conditions as well as insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
MaineWhen 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
MarylandWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
When using your wipers
MassachusettsWhen 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
MichiganWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
MinnesotaDuring conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light that limits visibility to 500 feet
During rain, snow, sleet, or hail
From sunset to sunrise
MississippiWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
MissouriWhen 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
MontanaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
NebraskaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
From sunset to sunrise
NevadaWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New HampshireWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During inclement weather
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New JerseyWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
New MexicoWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
New YorkWhen 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 CarolinaWhen visibility is limited to 400 feet due to insufficient light
When using your windshield wipers
From sunset to sunrise
North DakotaWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
OhioWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
OklahomaWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
OregonWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
From sunset to sunrise
PennsylvaniaWhen 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 IslandWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
South CarolinaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
South DakotaWhen visibility is less than 200 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
TennesseeWhen visibility is less than 200 feet
During rain, fog, or smoke
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
TexasWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During nighttime
UtahWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
VermontWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
VirginiaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
When using your wipers
From sunset to sunrise
WashingtonWhen visibility is less than 1,000 feet
½ hour after sunset to ½ hour before sunrise
West VirginiaWhen visibility is less than 500 feet
During conditions of adverse weather or insufficient light
From sunset to sunrise
WisconsinDuring hours of darkness
During period of limited visibility, unless you have daytime running lights
WyomingWhen 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.

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In the Garage with CarParts.com is an online blog dedicated to bringing DIYers and devoted car enthusiasts up to date with topical automotive news and lifestyle content. Our writers live and breathe automotive, taking the guess work out of car repairs with how-to content that helps owners get back on the road and keep driving.

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