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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 21, 2013 at 10:37 am


Please add the list or a link to it.

thank you

Joseph Mattfeld
May 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

All moving vehicles--lights-on, unless you are on tank-duty in enemy territory, good luck!

May 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Where is the list? Is this is a joke!

May 19, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Everyone should be sure your lights are on in fog, rain snow, dusk!
My wipers on not running at dusk or after dark, except for when it rains!

May 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I can't believe that all the new cars/trucks sold in the US aren't required to have automatic headlights & daylight running lights. Not only are they a great safety feature but it would cut down on the number of STUPID people driving around after dusk without lights...just saw a car last night at 8:30 pm driving down a major road without any headlights!
I wouldn't buy a car without automatic headlights and daylight running lights. Even with these features on my Suburban, I do sometimes have to switch on the lights if driving in rain.

May 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm

when automatic headlights are on the tail lights are not on. Ask me how dangerous that is in the early morning fog when headlights are coming at u.

May 19, 2013 at 6:23 pm

How about headlight aiming laws? Dont some states require correct aim when renewing licenses?

May 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Can you share the link to the Nissan chart? That would greatly help your readers. Thanks!

Marylee Archer
May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

What are the headlight rules for Indiana?

May 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Joe, I'm with you: I missed the list, too. Well, maybe we're just suppose to guess-timate?!?