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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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Lisa Yaro
December 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Why not just make headlights mandatory at all times? seems like a no-brainer.

doug walker
December 01, 2013 at 1:40 pm

I turn my lights on all the time, day or night. I drive a white truck,plus I have a better chance of being seen. light bulbs are inexspensive. peoples lifes are pricless

May 29, 2013 at 10:07 pm

It is of my opinion that the we here in the States should follow Canada; the National Highway Safety Admin of Canada reports that accident and accident fatalities have been reduced by 60% since the implementation of headlights being required at all times during the operation of a vehichle. I think it makes great sense!

May 29, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Here in good ol Pa., while the law does stipulate headlights to be on when wipers are on-an excellent idea-enforcement does not seem to be a priority. Another words, compliance is spotty. Maybe even just bigger fines would help.

Ryan Poe
May 28, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Randy, you're wrong. A law is more lenient when it permits more conduct. The most lenient situation would be one where there is no law. A law that requires headlights when visibility is only 5 feet would constrain very little conduct, so it would be quite lenient.

May 23, 2013 at 6:07 pm

When in doubt turn your lights on. Better to be safe than sorry.

May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm

LIBAD - ..."Tennessee, are more lenient, requiring headlights only when visibility is less than 200 feet...

This statement makes no sense! It should read 'less lenient' or 'more strict'.

Either you don't know the difference between more and less, or between lenient and strict. Letting you drive without headlights when you can only see 200 feet is much more lenient than requiring them at visibility less than 500 or 1000 feet. In those states you can be cited at 499 and 999 feet respectively, while Tennessee lets you drive without lights until you can barely see 10 car lengths ahead. Is your beef that the road rules in Tennessee aren't strict enough?

May 22, 2013 at 8:22 pm

..."Tennessee, are more lenient, requiring headlights only when visibility is less than 200 feet...

This statement makes no sense! It should read 'less lenient' or 'more strict'. I have a beef with drivers of Tennessee in my area who don't follow the road rules. They are hazards ready to cause untold misery! Road rules need to be aggressively enforced.

May 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

I believe it's an excellent article. There are far too many idiotic drivers out there that don't have a clue behind the wheel of a motorized vehicle. The general population need to be reminded of these small but not insignificant laws. It's all about SAFETY. Less accidents would happen if more people have their headlights on at all times. Why do you think they require motorcycles to have headlights on at all times? I always drive with my headlights on, no matter what the weather or light of day it is.

Great point DAVID HARRIS!!

May 22, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I'm from Upstate and I live now in SC and what I see here is that state law don't enforce the law.You see here drivers in a beautiful sunny day with head lights on,while in storming rainful day or foggy day or night you see drivers with no lights on at all.I can't understand the DOT rules,look's like their rules are backwards or the police dept don't care at all.It's incredible what you see here, cars with blue,purple,green,yellow and all types of colors,it seams to me that there's some kind of competition with P.D. since they use high blue lights to pull you over of the road.This is what we can call typical business!!!