"Four-Way Stop, You Go. No, You Go Guy," meet your overly polite kindred spirit, "Bashful High Beamer." Turns out, drivers use their high beams less than half as often as they should on dark rural roads, according to a recent joint study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and University of Michigan. High-beam use was even lower in unlit urban locations where "brights" would have been appropriate.
That's unfortunate since high beams double drivers' ability to see objects ahead of them, giving about 400 feet of visibility compared with around 200 feet for low beams. At 55 mph, 400 feet is the approximate distance needed for a driver to stop.
So why do drivers skip the brights? Researchers speculate they're too polite, using low beams whenever another vehicle is in sight, even if those cars are too far away to be bothered by the glare. Another possibility? Drivers may simply forget to switch to high beams.
Researchers observed 3,200 cars in Michigan and conducted telephone surveys asking drivers how often they use high beams.
So when should you switch on the high beams?
High beams are fine anytime there are no oncoming vehicles and when you're more than 300 feet behind another car. You should switch to low beams when you're within 500 feet (about a block) of an oncoming driver. If you're on a winding road, you'll also want to dim your lights before you go around a curve to avoid blinding an oncoming driver.
Use low beams if you're driving in fog, heavy rain, and snow. Light from high beams reflects off the moisture and clouds visibility.
The big high-beam takeaway: Think "brights" more often than you do now. And if you're car-shopping, consider models with high-beam assist, which senses whether other cars are present and automatically switches between low and high beams for you.