Few drivers use their high beams, according to a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the University of Michigan.
Drivers need to use them more to improve visibility and safety, IIHS concludes.
The study revealed 18% of 3,200 isolated vehicles observed – those at least 10 seconds away from another vehicle – used high beams. At one urban location, less than 1% used high beams.
"It may be that drivers are being too polite and keeping their 'brights' off whenever there are other vehicles in sight – even if those vehicles are far enough away not to be bothered by the glare," said Ian Reagan of IIHS.
So what constitutes "far enough away?" Do you know?
The current Washington Drivers Guide says, "Use your high beams whenever there are no oncoming vehicles. Dim your high beams whenever you come within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle. Use your low beams when following 300 feet or less behind another vehicle."
The current Oregon Driver Manual differs slightly: "If using your high beams, you must dim them when an oncoming vehicle is within 500 feet. Dim your lights when following another vehicle within 350 feet."
Some drivers struggle with estimating distances. What's 500 feet?
For me, I visualize the Space Needle and use it for scale. The restaurant level of the Needle revolves 500 feet above ground, while the tip of the torch rises to 605 feet.
If you need to distinguish 300 feet from 350 feet, I suppose a good approximation is a football field – 300 feet from goal line to goal line, while the entire field including both end zones stretches 360 feet.
As for using your high beams to maximize safety, IIHS now rates headlights and gives extra credit to vehicles equipped with "high-beam assist," which automatically switches below low and high beams depending on traffic. Read the article in Status Report