Headlight Best Practices

Headlight Best Practices

Headlights are among the most underappreciated and important of safety equipment. Headlights help drivers see and be seen — and stay safe in a wide range of road conditions.

If there is any piece of safety equipment that’s taken for granted and shouldn’t — it’s probably headlights.

Headlights are a lifesaving necessity of driving. In fact, according to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, about 50% of all fatal crashes occur at night; with more than 25% on unlit roads.

It’s important to note that there are three headlight settings: day lights, low beams, and high beams. Low beams are the standard setting that should be used in most cases.

The good news is that many of today’s headlights can be set to automatically illuminate the way ahead when it’s needed without the driver making that determination.

But as with any settings, they can be limited and be easily and inadvertently disengaged in some models.

This means that you, as the driver, still need to know how to use your headlights — your life depends on it.

Illuminating Safely

While it goes without saying that you should turn your headlights on when it’s nighttime, there are numerous other situations where driving with your headlights on is necessary (and sometimes required).

You should use your low beams in the following situations, according to DMV.org:

  • Poor weather, such as snow, rain, or fog. In some states, it may be required to turn on your headlights anytime you engage your windshield wipers, even if you think there’s plenty of light to see. If you use your high beams in these weather conditions, the light may reflect back, making it dangerous to drive.
  • City driving at night. Because of street illumination and other cars on the road, it is unnecessary to have your high beams on. In fact, you may blind drivers coming in the other direction if you drive with your high beams.
  • Following another vehicle at night. If you use your high beams in this situation, you will likely blind or distract the driver in the lead car, making them more likely to crash.
  • Another vehicle is approaching in the opposite direction. Even if you are on a country road where high beams are recommended, you may be required to switch from high beams to low beams at a certain distance as a vehicle is approaching. Check your local laws for guidance.
  • Road signs indicate a daytime headlight zone. While it may seem counterintuitive to turn on your lights, road signage must always be obeyed for your safety, the safety of others, and to avoid a ticket.
  • Dawn and Dusk: In addition to being able to see ahead, you want to make sure that other drivers can see you — using your low beams in these situations will help make you visible. In that vein, you should also turn your headlights on if all of the other vehicles on the road have them on to make sure you are visible to other drivers.

Unless you’re on an open highway, or a rural or mountain road, there is likely no need to engage your high beams often. That being said, consult your local headlight laws to make sure you’re using your high beams correctly.

Keep in mind that you will likely encounter drivers who are not using their headlights in the most optimal ways. Among the most common is using high beams in city traffic. If a vehicle is approaching you with their high beams on, keep your eyes to the right edge of your lane — that’ll help minimize the blinding effect.

Maintenance of your lights is important; and not just replacing bulbs when they burn out. Clean the glass covering headlights often, because it can become cloudy, cutting up to 80% of illuminating power. If you notice that your headlights are pointing in different directions, you may need to have them aligned at your maintenance provider.

Lighting the Future

As with many automotive technologies, headlights are becoming more autonomous, and may soon have the ability to adapt to driving conditions in real time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed modifying the regulations that set performance standards and compliance tests to include adaptive-driving-beam headlights. The IIHS also supports updating these rules. Adaptive-driving-beam headlights are currently in use throughout Europe and Japan.

Adaptive headlights continuously adjust the high-beam pattern to create a shadow around other vehicles based on input from a forward-looking camera, and move to compensate for curves and hills, maximizing illumination.

But adaptive headlights are still in the future. Today, if you keep your eyes on the road, maintain your headlights in good working order, and follow best practices for headlight use, you’ll be able to see and be seen no matter the lighting conditions.

Drive Safely!

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