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Violating headlight laws obvious to oncoming drivers

January 29, 2011

Of all the vehicle and traffic laws in New York State, violators are not as obvious to other drivers as are violators of the headlight laws. If it's raining and your wipers are on and if you also forget to turn on your headlights, every vehicle that you meet knows you are violating the law. It's tantamount to hanging a sign on the front of your vehicle that says "hey, look at me - I'm violating the law!"

When we as drivers do violate a law, we usually don't want others to notice, especially enforcement agencies. Often we knowingly violate traffic laws for various reasons, but when we do, we hope no one, especially a police officer, notices. If we are speeding and see a police car, we slow down. If we know a police car is following us, we certainly don't exceed the speed limit, or run a red light.

But there is no law that, when flouted, is as obvious to other drivers as the headlight laws. If you are speeding, say going 65 mph in a 55 zone, most other drivers wouldn't even notice, as judging speed is at best quite difficult. Same could be said for running a red light - only a few drivers at that intersection would be aware.

But, if you are driving along in the rain, or a snowstorm, or at dusk or dawn without lights on, it is most obvious to every driver you meet. Some don't even notice, but some think "what a jerk, driving in such a rain (or snowstorm) without lights on."

Now just in case New York State Vehicle and Traffic law regarding the use of headlights is not totally familiar to you, here is a review of article 375-2(a) of New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.

You must drive with full headlights, not just daytime running lights, during the following:

These are minimum requirements. In the case of the half-hour after sunset to half-hour before sunrise, this dates back many decades, when there wasn't much vehicular traffic and speeds were generally under 30 mph. Today, with so much traffic and speed limits on two-lane roads 55 mph, this law is very outdated. Take notice how dark it is 30 minutes after sunset, even on a clear day, never mind a dark, cloudy day. Some states and provinces mandate headlights a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise. That's a full hour earlier than New York state at sunset and a full hour later than in New York after sunrise.

As a driver, you want to be seen by other motorists as easily as possible. Your headlights are the best way to make this happen. In fact good drivers use headlights all the time, day and night. How about you?

For this and many more articles on vehicle law and traffic safety, visit the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board's website at


Dave Werner can be reached at



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