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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 11:44 am

OK, where are the requirements???

May 22, 2013 at 11:40 am

You missed the South Carolina requirement that headlights be used from 30 min. before sundown until 30 min. after sunrise.

May 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

Arkansas law requires that headlights be on when wipers are on.

May 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

The newer cars, the last 2 or 3 years, the head lights come on when you start the car. That is ok but the tail lights do NOT come on. Normaly, in the day time that is ok but, in the day time, in the rain, the tail lights should be on. This should be a federal law, not for the ststes to decide.

Pete Yiongling
May 22, 2013 at 9:58 am

A headline that reads like your should INCLUDE THE LINK TO THE STATE LAWS.

May 22, 2013 at 9:47 am

What about driving with the fog lights on? Most people think they can drive with them on at all times. New vehicles come with them and they don't even know how to turn them on and off.

May 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

You missed Missouri with the requirement for headlights when your wipers on.

May 22, 2013 at 9:09 am

I am with you on the safety of this issue. I don't have auto headlights, but I do have a safety common since and turn on my headlights when I drive, especially when the weather starts to get foggy, rain, dark. etc. There may be these LAWS out there, but the key is getting everyone to adhere to them. There have been so many times that I have seen people in all different situations not having their lights on when they really should have. Laws are to keep honest people honest, because there is not enough Police that enforce these laws. thank you.

May 22, 2013 at 8:44 am

Along with that if you want REAL safety have the manufacturer set the car uo so that when it is in gear,any cell phone will be disabled.

May 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

Enough Already with the "LAWS" for everything. How about having the manufacturer equip a vehicle with a national standard.
My vehicles are all automatic lights but I hate the idea of making a "Law" for everything