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When Should You Use Your Headlights? What You Need to Know

LED headlight

Headlights are a critical part of any car because they let you drive in adverse conditions with visibility issues. Many motorists would be surprised to find out they’re actually legally required to use their headlights at certain times and places. When, exactly, should you be using your headlights? What about high and low beams?

While laws vary based on state and locality, you’re generally required to use your headlights during adverse weather like rain, snow, hail, fog, and sleet. There are some other circumstances where you’re required to use headlights, too.

car and road divider

These include:

  • On a narrow two-lane highway
  • When local signage indicates a daylight headlight zone
  • On rural or mountain roads (commonly called ‘back roads’)
  • 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise
  • When there are reduced visibility conditions – some states require headlights if visibility falls below 1000 feet, 500 feet, and other similar figures
LED car headlight
Image Credit: Yauhen_D, Shutterstock

When Should I Use High Beams/Fog Lights?

Using your high beams instantly boosts visibility but at the cost of possibly distracting other drivers. For this reason, high beams are usually regulated a bit more strictly. Using high beams when you’re not supposed to can annoy other drivers and possibly even get you pulled over and fined by a law enforcement officer.

High beams are there for a reason, though. You’re usually required to use them under certain conditions where reduced visibility could cause you, pedestrians, other drivers, or animals harm.

These conditions include:

  • On rural or mountain roads, especially at night. It’s very important you flick off your high beams when you sense another car coming your way because you could blind them. The other main reason is to make other drivers aware of your presence.
  • At night, on highways when there are no other cars present.

For the most part, you should save your high beams for when you’re driving in poorly lit areas alone, with few drivers or pedestrians around.

Car headlight
Image By: wilkernet, Pixabay

When Should I Use Low Beams?

Low beams are the best way to illuminate your surroundings when there are other drivers nearby, or in some extreme visibility conditions like heavy fog, rain, or snow. Using high beams can sometimes actually compromise your vision because much of the light gets reflected back to you in the form of glare.

Low beams are the best type of headlight for most conditions, and you’ll be using them far more often than your high beams. Check the list below for more situations where you should be using your low-beam headlights.

Low Beam Conditions Include:

  • Many states and localities have laws that you must switch from high to low beams when another car is approaching from the opposite direction.
  • When a daylight headlight zone is posted
  • When you’re following other cars at night
  • Between sunset to sunrise
  • When you’re having trouble seeing pedestrians or other obstacles
  • When your visibility is severely compromised by lack of illumination, e.g., a tunnel.
car headlight
Image Credit: Dom J, Pexels

Headlight Tips

There are several things you can do at home and while you drive that will drastically improve how helpful your headlights are. Below, we detail some tips to help you make the most of your headlights and stay safe in low visibility conditions.

Headlight Tips:

  • Regularly clean your headlights. The glass covering the bulbs can get dirty, cloudy, or misty very easily.
  • When replacing headlights, do it in pairs. If you only change out one at a time, the other can get dim or cloudy.
  • Check your headlights and taillights before driving. This can help ensure you won’t be surprised by one of your lights being out when you really need it.
  • Consider switching to LED headlights. They offer the greatest illumination of any headlight type, are energy efficient, and typically aren’t very expensive.
  • Reduce your speed when your visibility is compromised to minimize the chances of surprises or accidents occurring.

car and road divider Conclusion

Headlights are a vital part of any car that allows us to drive at night and in poorly lit conditions. You should always pay attention to local headlight laws and advisories that change or affect the way you use your lights and exercise both common sense and caution when driving with lights on.

Featured Image Credit: Oleksiy Mark, Shutterstock


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