Lights and brights: Which headlight settings to use


If you've ever been blinded by an oncoming car's headlights on or nearly hit a car because its lights were off altogether, you know how important it is to use your headlights correctly. Here's a guide to seeing and being seen while driving at night.
Headlights (low beams)
Turn on your headlights at night or whenever there's inclement weather, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. If you don't turn your headlights on, law enforcement might remind you by pulling you over. Make sure that you are using the headlights, not just the parking lights, to illuminate the road ahead. The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles recommends the following rule of thumb: If you're having trouble seeing other cars, other drivers probably are having trouble seeing you. That means you should turn on your headlights even when it's not completely dark -- when driving in fog, for example, or when driving at dusk.
Brights (high beams)
Your vehicle comes equipped with two general light settings. The higher setting (commonly called your "brights") will help you see about twice as far down the road, according to the Connecticut DMV. Yet they also can blind other drivers. The Connecticut and California DMVs recommend using high beams in these circumstances:
  • On country roads without good illumination, or on unlit city streets.
  • When there is no oncoming traffic.
The bright setting should not be used:
  • When there's another car coming toward you or when there's a car behind you.
  • When driving in fog, rain or snow. Light from your high beams will reflect off the fog or precipitation, making even more difficult to see.
If other drivers are less thoughtful and you find yourself blinded by the high beams of oncoming cars or trucks, the Connecticut DMV recommends looking toward the right side of the road. This will help you stay on the road while not staring directly into the lights.
Fog lights
Despite what their name may suggest, fog lights alone are not enough to make your car visible while driving in fog. They are meant to be used in combination with your headlights during foggy, rainy or snowy conditions. According to online auto lighting consultant and supplier Daniel Stern Lighting, fog lights are designed to create a bar-shaped beam of light that illuminates the edge of the road, the road markings and the immediate foreground.  That way, even if your headlights are causing glare, the fog lights will help you stay on the road.
Headlight maintenance
Keeping your car's headlights in good conditions can prevent accidents, auto insurance claims and higher premiums. AAA recommends:
  • Having a dealer or mechanic make sure your headlights are properly aligned.
  • Cleaning your headlights. You can do this at a gas station, whenever you clean your windshield. Even a thin layer of dirt can block 90 percent of the light your headlights produce, according to AAA.
  • Keep your windshield clean. Dirt or chips on your windshield can trigger glare, causing your headlights (and those of other motorists) to put you in more danger.
Blinding light
New headlight technology could be making things better -- and worse. High-intensity discharge lights, for example, are becoming more common, especially on upscale models, according to AAA. You've probably seen them -- they look blue compared with older headlights. While they can help drivers see better at night, their brightness (they emit twice the light of conventional bulbs) and blue color can be a nuisance to those sharing the road.
These other trends can be hard on the eyes as well, according to AAA:
  • Additional fog lights and other extra bulbs on newer models.
  • A higher headlight level for large vehicles, including SUVs and trucks outfitted with oversized tires.

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