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Headlight requirements by state

By Tara Baukus Mello ·
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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May 22, 2013 at 8:02 am

I just looked at Nissan's infographic and found it to be woefully lacking in information. It was not even correct about my state. Marvin Ritenburgh, in Georgia headlights cannot be more than 54 inches above the surface of the road, measured to the center of the headlight, so some jacked-up trucks have raised their lights above this limit and may be ticketed. I suspect there are similar laws in most states.

May 22, 2013 at 7:53 am

Here in Georgia one must use headlights from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise (I wish it were simply sunset to sunrise). Also, drivers must turn their lights on when it's raining and daytime running lights DO NOT qualify as having the lights on. Georgia requires all lights, front and rear, to be on when it's raining. A driver may also NOT use more than four road illumination lights at a time. Anything more than two headlights and two fog lights would be a violation.

Jim T.
May 22, 2013 at 7:35 am

I agree with the headlights coming on when the vehicle is started, but what I do not agree with is the tail lights not doing the same. In inclimate weather, it is just as difficult to see the vehicle you are coming up on as it is to see the one you are approaching who has no headlights. To much common scents for the manufacturer I guess.

Martha pridgen
May 22, 2013 at 7:26 am

I agree that it should be a law that headlights should be on at all times on the road. You would be surprise to see how many people driving down the road in a pouring down rainstorm with no lights on. If they get hit by another car. They will blame the other driver!

May 22, 2013 at 7:14 am

Having been raised within a stones throw from the Canadian Border I can tell you that in Canada if the wheels move the headlights have to be on. Low beam at a minimum. The other thing you see very little of are fog or driving lights, which if improperly aimed can blind an oncoming driver. I think the headlights on all the time is an excellant rule. It does eliminate the drivers who drive at dusk or later with no headlights.

May 22, 2013 at 6:09 am

uhm, if stating Minnesota's requirement, please get it right. Headlight use is required from dusk to dawn. It is also required if it is raining (hence the statement above when the wipers are in use), but NOT only when in use. You would still be surprised how many dark horses you still eventually make out. It is amazing how many people apparently have vision better than an eagle, and believe they can see, but forget they also have to be seen. And only a handful of people have the extraordinary vision you seem to have.

May 22, 2013 at 12:12 am

Indiana's law is headlights must be on dim within 500' of an approaching vehicle. The fog or accessory lights are not permitted to be on within the same requirements of approaching vehicle. The light is measured in lumens, however I have never seen a Indiana law on a maximum lumen output per light. The highest lumen rating I know of on a standard halogen you can buy at a discount store is 55 lumens. I agree the headlights should be on all of the time. I believe State Farm did a study and found you aren18% les likely to be involved in a crash with your headlights on during the day. That is an old study but I believe it is correct. If the new bright lights are properly aligned, they do not pose a problem to oncoming traffic. If someone fails to dim while approaching you at night, turn on your dome light and your road vision will be much better. It greatly reduces the blinding affect.

marvin ritenburgh
May 21, 2013 at 10:48 pm

what is the law on how bright or not bright the headlight are in a car and truck. Some pickups have been raised and their lights are blinding when they are behind you. Also some of the new replacement bulbs are so bright that when they are coming toward you you lose the ability to see the road.

Kenneth Hopkins
May 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm

When Meeting a car lights are to be on dim and FOG/DRIVING need
to be OFF!!!! We need this to be a LAW!!

May 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I live on a highway and can say without a doubt that headlights should be mandatory on any moving vehicle. EXPERIECED OBSERVER