Do you know the rules on your car lights?

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Originally published October 28th 2015

The clocks have changed and the dark nights are starting to draw in, which means most of us will be driving to and from work in the dark for the next few months - so now is as good a time as any to not only check our lights are working properly but also brush up on the rules and regulations on car lights.

So here is all you need to know on headlights, sidelights and registration plate lights as well as windscreens and other windows.

Lights – daytime rules

You might think it is only important to use lights at night, but there are also instances when you should use them even during daylight hours.

These include brake lights, which should come on when you hit the foot brake but should not be used continuously in stationary queues of traffic due to the glare for drivers behind you.

Headlights and fog lights should also be used in daytime hours when visibility is seriously reduced – although you must switch them off when visibility improves to avoid dazzling other road users – while dipped headlights should be turned on to ensure you can be seen in dull weather.

All sidelights and rear registration plate lights must also be lit between sunset and sunrise, even if it still seems light enough to manage without them.

Under EU rules, since 2011 all new cars are required to have daytime running lights that come on automatically when the engine is started, and which turn off automatically when headlights or sidelights are lit.

Lights – nighttime rules

The key when it comes to lighting your way as a nighttime driver is to have sufficient light to see clearly where you are going, and to ensure that you can be seen, while not using your lights to dazzle other road users.  

To this end, you must always use your headlights at night (which is defined as the period between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise), but you must ensure that they are dipped in built-up areas or when you are behind or approaching other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders.

And while you can legally just use your sidelights at night if you're driving under 30mph in a well-lit area, most drivers use dipped headlights anyway for better visibility of the road ahead.

When overtaking, for example, you should always keep your headlights dipped until you are level with the other vehicle and then change to main beam if necessary, unless this would dazzle oncoming road users.

If you are on the receiving end of dazzling headlights, meanwhile, you should slow down, or if necessary stop, and only continue once you can see the road ahead properly.

Brake lights

As far as your brake lights are concerned, make sure they’re working and keep them clean.

As well as the safety issues, you’re likely to get pulled over sharpish if something isn’t working. If you do get pulled by the police you may just get a verbal warning, but you could also get:

  • a fixed penalty notice  - a £60 fine and three points on your licence
  • a Roadside Prohibition Notice - 10 days to fix the fault before a repeat inspection
  • your car taken off the road immediately

And falling foul of the law isn't the only thing to worry about if you've a dodgy brake light, it can also be extremely dangerous - if one or both brake lights aren't working, the cars behind won't be able to tell when you're slowing down, especially if you brake suddenly.

So check your brake lights at least once a week by getting someone to stand behind your car while you apply the brakes, and replace any faulty bulbs straight away.

You should also check your indicator lights at the same time and replace any that are faulty, speaking of which...

Hazard lights

Hazard warning lights should only be used when your vehicle is stationary to warn that it is temporarily obstructing traffic and never as an excuse for dangerous or illegal parking.

The only exception to this rule is when your car is being towed on a motorway or unrestricted dual carriageway and you need to warn drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead – and even then they should only be used for long enough to ensure that your warning has been observed.

Fog lights

Driving in fog is no fun at all as visibility can be reduced to just a few feet, so all cars are fitted with at least one rear extra light to make them more visible in fog. 

Some cars are also fitted with front fog lights.

Although it's not a legal requirement to use your fog lights if you're driving in fog, you really should to make sure other motorists can see you.

Never use your fog lights when visibility is clear though, especially at night when other drivers can easily be dazzled.

Not only is this dangerous, it's also illegal and could result in a non-endorsable Fixed Penalty Notice, which is a £30 fine but no penalty points.

Windows

Whatever the time of day, if you can’t see out of your windscreen, your headlights aren’t going to help you much.

That’s why the government insists that drivers with tinted windows have glass that lets at least 75% of light through the front windscreen and 70% through the front side windows.

You can, however, protect passengers in the back seats from prying eyes as much as you want, as there are no rules about how much light tinted rear windscreens or rear passenger windows must allow through.

The purpose of the law on tinted windows is to ensure the drivers’ ability to see the road is not excessively restricted.

Break it, and not only do you risk invalidating your insurance policy, you could also have your vehicle seized.

It’s also worth noting that windscreen cracks in the driver’s line of vision and larger than 10mm, as well as those elsewhere of more than 40mm in length can cause a car to fail its MOT.

And make sure you keep your windows clean on the inside and out, especially at this time of year to help minimise sun glare.

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