Perspective Newsletter

Road Rules 101: Do you turn on your headlights when you should?

headlight safety

​​​​Road Rules 101​Assuming you're not part of the work-from-home crowd, weekends may be your only chance to see your house in daylight this time of year. (Hello, winter solstice – 8 hours, 25 minutes of daylight in Seattle on Dec. 21!)

So with most of our lives now spent in moonlight, you'd think we'd know a thing or two about when to turn on our headlights. Yet the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports one particular headlight question foils would-be drivers 71% of the time on Washington's driver license test!

We don't have that question's exact wording, but you can check your lights-on knowhow with this one:

By law, your vehicle's lights must be turned on:

A) A half hour after sunset until a half hour before sunrise.

B) Anytime from sunset to sunrise.

C) Any time when, because of insufficient light or atmospheric conditions, persons or vehicles are not clearly discernible at a distance of 1,000 feet.

Got your answer?

Give yourself 100% if you answered "C" and partial credit for either "A" or "B." Visibility – more than time of day – is the key to headlight use. That means you can be found partially responsible for an accident at noon (broad daylight!) if it's a gray day and you're running without your lights on. Washington's laws also specify using lights "a half hour after sunset until a half hour before sunrise," while Oregon laws refer to using lights "any time from sunset to sunrise." Both Washington and Oregon require motorcyclists to use headlights at all times.

And a word of caution

Daytime running lights boost visibility for millions of drivers with newer cars. But on many models, daytime running lights activate the headlights only – leaving the taillights dark, potentially making you more vulnerable to a rear-end crash. (What's worse: In full darkness, some drivers mistakenly assume that because their instrument panel is illuminated, all their lights are on, too.) That means it's still a great habit to pop on the low beams before you even put the car in gear.

And if things seem a little dim even with your lights on? Make sure they're free of road grime. A coating of crud can reduce your headlights' effectiveness by 50% or more.

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