Headlight requirements reviewed

For many years New York State has required, by law, that a vehicle’s full headlights (not just daytime running lights, or DRLs) be on whenever windshield wipers are required for rain, snow, mist, drizzle, or spray kicked up by other vehicles on wet roads. Therefore, why do so many drivers fail to comply with this law?

There shouldn’t even need to be a law that requires this – it is, or should be, just common sense! Driving with your headlights on, even in daytime, lets other drivers see you sooner, better, and therefore makes it a safer situation.

If you are a frequent reader of these traffic safety articles, you are aware of the numerous articles promoting driving ALL the time with headlights on. Most European countries and Canada have requirements for DRLs or full headlights at all times, but we are more lax in the U.S. and New York state.

New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, sections 375(2) and 375(3) spell out many of the requirements pertaining to headlights and their use. Although the complete headlight laws are complex, here are the important parts of the headlamp requirements, according to vehicle and traffic law:

-Must be on between hour hour after sunset until half hour before sunrise (The times around sunset and sunrise are relatively dark, making other vehicles difficult to see, Therefore good drivers put their headlights on long before required and keep them on long after they are no longer required by law. Better drivers use their headlamps at ALL TIMES).

-Full headlights (not daytime running lights) must be on whenever windshield wipers are on, including the intermittent position.

-Full headlights must be used whenever visibility is less than 1000 feet, regardless of whether wipers are necessary.

-Headlamps must be on low beam when a vehicle approaching from ahead is within 500 feet of your vehicle, or when your vehicle is within 200 feet of a vehicle you are following.

-You must use low beams whenever the highway is so lighted that illumination of the highway more than 200 feet ahead is unnecessary (such as a highway lighted by street lights).

So what should you do should you meet an oncoming vehicle with no headlights on during rainy, snowy, foggy or other inclement weather? The best thing to do is to flash your high beams once, to remind the other driver that his/her vehicle is difficult to see and should have its lights on.

Now that you have read about the legal requirements of the headlight laws, the question is will you think about what action YOU must take to comply whenever you are driving, or will you just get into your vehicle and drive? Driving isn’t as routine as many of us think it is. We actually have to work at it, which means we shouldn’t be doing all those distracting things that most of us do so routinely, and we should be thinking constantly about whether we are compliant with the laws. Are you up to the task?

This and other columns can be found at Go to “Traffic Safety Board” under “departments.”