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Headlight requirements by state

By Tara Baukus Mello · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Posted: 6 am ET

You might think knowing when to turn on your car headlights is simply a matter of common sense, but U.S. laws for headlight use actually vary widely from state to state. With the expanded availability of its Smart Auto Headlights (which respond to weather conditions), Nissan analyzed the headlight regulations throughout the U.S. and created a handy infographic showing when drivers are required by law to turn on their headlights.

The analysis shows that the majority of states require headlight use when visibility is less than 1,000 feet. However, some states require headlights to be used when visibility is 500 feet. Two states, South Dakota and Tennessee, are more lenient, requiring headlights only when visibility is less than 200 feet, while the laws in four states (Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and South Carolina) stipulate car headlight use only when wipers are in use.

A handful of states, however, have more specific laws for headlight use that could catch an out-of-town driver (or a resident not up on current laws) completely off-guard. The most common requirement is to use headlights when wipers are in use. More obscure requirements include Pennsylvania, which requires drivers to turn on their headlights in construction zones, while Alaska requires headlights at speeds above 45 mph on designated highways.

Because keeping track of state laws can be difficult, owning a car with automatic headlights (which turn on when it's dark) as well as daytime running lights (which use a low beam headlight during the day) can be handy.

Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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138 Comments
roy frank
December 14, 2013 at 12:13 am

Common sense is given to you by birth- use it - Sorry , but they don't teach it in College(they just brain wash you )

Eric
December 13, 2013 at 11:56 pm

John-
older cars do not turn on any lights automatically. I think this feature went mainstream in mid 90's so 80's and older car still requires user to turn on the running lights and/or headlights manually.

If the article was correct and I still had my '82 Rivera, I would be driving completely dark at night unless I was using wipers.

Wade Ramsey
December 13, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Tara needs to do her homework. South Carolina requires headlights when using wipers, but also requires headlights from 30 min. before sunset through 30 min. after sunrise!

Raymond Roberts
December 13, 2013 at 11:02 pm

I can't believe that some states only require headlights when wipers are in use. That would mean that during hours of darkness you would not be required to turn on you headlights if you weren't using your wipers. How stupid is that. There must be more to the requirements than just lights have to be on when using wipers. I suspect that we have been misinformed by Tara Baukus Mello and I hope she corrects her mistake.

John Fitzgerald
December 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Linda ..... Those lights that come on when you start your car are NOT headlights, they are daytime running lights that are required in some states, useful in all states. And no, they do not turn on the tail lights.

Jerry Jordan
December 13, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Stated South Carolina requirement for headlight use is incorrect. See below:

Headlights
Headlights must be turned on whenever driving between 30 minutes after sunset, until 30 minutes before sunrise, and whenever conditions make it impossible to clearly see at least 500 feet ahead.

This includes any time windshield wipers are being used, unless they are merely being used on an intermittent basis to deal with misting rain, snow, or sleet.

High beams cannot be used within 500 feet of approaching vehicles, or when within 200 feet of a vehicle heading in the same direction.

Ken Nyland
December 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm

California had a requirement for aiming checkups every xx years. I believe every state should have this law. What ever happened to the automatic dimming when approaching an oncoming vehicle? Driving ;lights should be required by all vehicles in all states; by now it is years since this has been available.

LINDA YOUNG
December 13, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I HAVE LIGHTS THAT COME ON AUTOMATICALLY WHEN I START MY CAR. THE ONE BIG PROBLEM THAT I SEE IS THE TAIL LIGHTS DO NOT COME ON, SO WHEN THE WEATHER IS BAD I TURN MY HEADLIGHTS ON SO THE TAIL LIGHTS ARE ON. I FEEL IT IS AS IMPORTANT TO SEE THE CAR COMING AS IT IS TO SEE THE CAR IN FRONT OF YOU.

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