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California Headlight Laws: What You Need to Know

With year-round balmy weather, night driving in California can be a pleasure. However, it’s often interrupted by car accidents and near-accidents, many of which involve headlight issues. Even a short nighttime drive in San Diego, for example, can give you a sampling of drivers using blinding LED lights or not using any headlights at all.

As a motorist, you’re likely wondering, “What are California laws on headlight use? Did that driver just violate the law? Would they be liable for an accident?” Here’s a brief primer plus answers to some common questions. If you’ve had an accident involving headlight use, please speak with our auto accident attorney for case-specific legal advice.

California Headlight Laws: What’s Required, What’s Allowed and Not Allowed

California Required Headlight Usage

Under California Vehicle Code Section 24400, a motor vehicle other than a motorcycle must have at least two headlamps. They must be turned on when driving in the dark and/or in inclement weather. The law clearly defines “inclement weather” as a weather condition when:

  • The driver cannot clearly see a person or another vehicle on the highway from 1,000 feet away, OR
  • The driver has to use their windshield wiper due to rain, fog, snow, mist, or the like.

In addition, certain stretches of road in California require daytime headlight use. These are usually mountain roads or crash-prone highways such as Highway 67 between Lakeside and Ramona. When you see a black-and-white sign that says “Daylight Headlight Section” or “Daytime Headlights Area,” it’s a mandatory rule enforced by California Highway Patrol.

Elsewhere in California, the use of headlights is allowed at any time of day, at the discretion of the driver. Some studies suggest that daytime running lights help reduce the risk of head-on crashes and front-corner collisions.

California Headlights Type and Installation Law

California Vehicle Code 25950 states that headlights must be installed at a height of not more than 54 inches but not less than 22 inches. Section 25950 additionally mandates that all front lights should be in the white or yellow color spectrum. This color of light is sufficient to illuminate a driver’s front view.

California High Beams Law

The ‘default’ headlights that motorists use are low beams, providing short or medium-range illumination. On top of these are the high beams, which can illuminate twice as far as low beams. The downside is that high beams can temporarily blind other drivers and pedestrians. Thus, it’s common courtesy anywhere to turn off high beams when they’re not needed.

In California, this has become a law. California Vehicle Code 24409 prohibits “glaring rays… projected into the eyes of an oncoming driver.” Motorists must turn off their high beams when facing an oncoming vehicle closer than 500 feet, or when following another vehicle closer than 300 feet. Only low beams are allowed in these situations.

California Fog Lights Law

Fog lights are supplemental lights installed at a downward angle to illuminate the ground when driving through fog. These are legal in California, but the state’s vehicle code has these conditions:

  • A vehicle must not turn on more than two fog lamps at a time.
  • Fog lamps must be used with, not instead of, regular headlights.
  • Fog lights must be in the white to yellow color spectrum.
  • A vehicle must not be equipped with more than eight headlamps at a time.
  • A vehicle must not turn on more than four front lamps at a time.

Other Frequently Asked Questions on California Headlights

How bright can your headlights be in California?

The maximum brightness of headlights allowed in California is 2,513 lumens each.

Are aftermarket LED headlights legal in California?

Aftermarket headlights – those that you purchase separately for your vehicle – are legal in California. LED headlights are also legal as long as they are white, have amber turn signals, and are within the 2,513-lumen limit.

What light bulbs are banned in California?

Per the statutes described above, California bans headlight bulbs exceeding 2,513 lumens and lights outside the white or yellow color spectrum. Though sometimes added as accessories, blue, purple, or red lights are illegal as headlights in California.

Are HID lights legal in California?

There is no wording in the California Vehicle Code that explicitly bans high-intensity (HID) headlights. However, the California Highway Patrol is strict in enforcing the white-yellow color law and the brightness limit law. There’s a wide variety of aftermarket HID lights, and many of them – especially the colored ones – would be illegal under California’s headlight restrictions.

What About Motorcycle Headlights?

The following briefly describes motorcycle headlight law in California. All riders understand, however, that when equipping their bike, being seen and keeping alive is something that may transcend the law.

In California, all motorcycles must be equipped with at least one headlight that is in good working order at all times. That is, unless you have a bike made or manufactured before January 1, 1978. The headlight must be turned on from sunset to sunrise, and it must also be turned on whenever visibility is poor due to weather, fog, or other conditions.

Going further into details, California Vehicle Code Section 25651 states that a motorcycle headlight must reveal a pedestrian or a car at 100 feet when riding at 25 miles per hour or less, 200 feet when going between 25 and 35 miles per hour, and at 300 feet when traveling at more than 35 miles an hour. In the case of a motorcycle equipped with multiple forward lights (no more than two by law), the main or upper headlight must meet the above requirements.

Who is Liable in a California Accident Involving Headlights?

Plenty of auto accidents revolve around the misuse or non-use of headlights. Some examples:

  • Driver did not turn on their headlights on a dark road
  • Driver’s headlights were too dim or in a less-visible color
  • Driver’s headlights were too bright, hampering the vision of other motorists.

When these scenarios lead to an injurious accident, the driver who violated a headlight law may likely be found liable to pay for resulting injuries. This is because accident liability in California is based on whose negligence caused the crash, and a driver who’s been cited with a violation is presumed negligent (“negligence per se”).

On the other hand, if you were the injured party but it was your headlight that had an issue, this could reduce the amount of injury compensation you may receive. California follows the comparative negligence rule, which looks at your own potential negligence and how it contributed to the crash. If, for instance, you were found to be 40 percent at fault because of your headlight violation, your compensation could be reduced by 40 percent as well.

Regardless of whose headlight is at issue, it’s best to consult an accident attorney immediately after you’ve been injured. An experienced California personal injury lawyer can help you build a case to pursue the maximum compensation you deserve.

Contact a San Diego County Personal Injury Attorney

Hamparyan Personal Injury Lawyers is one of California’s most successful accident law firms, having served more than 20 years and winning over $100 million on behalf of injured clients. Talk to us about your headlight crash injury. Your consultation with us is free, and you won’t have to pay us lawyer fees until we obtain compensation for you. Call us today at (619) 550-1355.


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