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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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Mel D
May 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm

I think it should be the LAW that headlights be on especially during rain. More and more I see cars with no lights on, and when you need to look in the rearview mirror, you CAN NOT see those cars. VERY DANGEROUS. If I was a police officer, I'd stop EVERY CAR driving with no lights in the rain! THAT gives ME road rage!

May 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Completely useless article.

May 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Really? Gas prices are sky high, jobs are nowhere, taxes always going up and up ... and up, a whitehouse that never seems to have truthful answers, ie(knows nothing),and here we are discussing how having the lights on will save us all. Really??

May 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

I agree with Stacy. Unfortunately, I think the makers of those lights have a loop hole. It is color spectrum. They are not considered brighter than others as measured by watts. However, they are considered to have a different color on the light color spectrum chart. Very blinding if you ask me. Laws concerning color range of headlights could probably stop these type lights.

May 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Personally I feel that for safeties sake headlights should be on day and night. All vehicles should have auto dimming headlights and there should be a maximum height limit from the ground for headlights. There is nothing worse than having the headlights of a following vehicle that are at the same height as your back windows.

May 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I totally agree with "Stacy". Those colored headlights are a real danger to on-coming traffic. When I see those lights my vision gets confused and they are very hard on others eyes. THEY SHOULD BE ILLEGAL IN ALL STATES!

Ron Litke
May 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

As far as I'm concerned,... one's headlights should "automatically come on" as soon as you put your auto into gear to drive. That eliminates the confusing different state laws and regulations. Make it "universal and automatic" built into the auto. It helps you being seen "at all times".

May 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm

We turn our lights every time we start to drive. Where we live we have a LOT of bad weather, we constantly see people driving in heavy rains, snow, even blizzards, you name it. If I'm not mistaken Canada requires all new vehicles to have auto driving lights. Why in the US do we avoid some of the cheapest fixes to promote safety, we should do the same. It's not always to let you better, but to let other people see you, and it really helps.

May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Inaccuracy in the Minnesota laws regarding headlight use. It would seem that according to this article no matter how dark it is, you only need to use your headlights of it is raining. In Minnesota, headlights must be on at dusk. Brights must be dimmed within 500 feet of another vehicle. IF you are using your wipers, the headlights must be on. Motor cycles must have headlights on at all times while in operation.

May 22, 2013 at 12:35 pm

They need to ban those blinding blue, green and pink lights!! Gives me road rage!!