Your car’s headlights have a lot more uses than helping you see the road at night. As a motorist, it’s important to understand when, how and why you should use the different lights on your car for maximum visibility and safety. Doing so helps to keep you and other drivers safe on the road. 

To better understand your car’s lights and when to use them according to UK law, take a look at our complete guide below.

What are the different kinds of lights on my car?

  • Full beam
  • Dipped beam
  • Sidelights – Small, white lights on the front corners of the car
  • Daytime running lights – Some modern cars have a constant low light that cannot be turned off
  • Rear fog light – Can be a single or double red light
  • Front fog light – Smaller white lights that are lower on the front bumper

Driving condition: Daytime

Many motorists think it’s only important to use their vehicle lights at night, but there are many instances when you should turn them on during daylight hours. 

Brake lights should come on as soon as the brake pedal is pressed, but not used continuously in stationary queues of traffic as this causes unnecessary glare for drivers behind the vehicle. 

When visibility is significantly reduced during the day, headlights and fog lights should be used. Once visibility improves, these lights should be switched off to avoid dazzling other drivers. In dull weather and heavy rain on motorways, dipped headlights can help you to be seen by pedestrians others on the road. 

Driving condition: Night

Driving at Night

According to The Highway Code, “night” refers to the period between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise. All sidelights and rear registration plate lights must be lit between sunset and sunrise – even if there is ample street lighting. If in doubt, turn on the full beam headlights. 

The key when it comes to lighting your way at night-time is to have sufficient light to clearly see where you’re going and to ensure that you can be seen without dazzling other road users.

To avoid blinding fellow road users, when driving at night you should switch from full beam to dipped headlights when other road users are driving toward or in front of you. However, if you overtake a vehicle in front of you, you can then put your full beam lights back on to better illuminate the road ahead, provided there is no oncoming traffic or other vehicles in front.

Legally, you can use your sidelights at night if you’re driving under 30mph in a well-lit area. However, most drivers use dipped headlights anyway for increased visibility on the road.

If you are on the receiving end of bright headlights, you should slow down or, if necessary, stop. A good way to avoid being dazzled is to look to the far left of the road and follow the white line. Avoid looking directly into the headlights.

Driving condition: Fog

How much fog warrants turning on your fog lights? The Highway Code states that you should use your rear fog lights if you can’t see more than 100m beyond your car. Before you get your tape measure out, a good way to assess this length is to use the car in front – if you are struggling to see their rear lights because of fog, then turn on your fog lights. Turn them off as soon as the fog has passed. 

Although it’s not a legal requirement to use your fog lights if you’re driving in fog, it is much safer for yourself and other motorists. However, you could receive a penalty notice if you leave your fog lights on when visibility is clear.

Driving condition: Rain

UK Motorway Heavy Rain

Across the UK we see our fair share of rain and storms. Falling rain and spray from other vehicles can often affect visibility. A rule of thumb is to use your side lights or dipped beam headlights so that you can see and be seen in these conditions.

Don’t get caught out

Using your car lights incorrectly or being without fully working lights could land you in trouble. 

  • If you’re stopped by police for a brake light that isn’t working, you might be lucky enough to only get a verbal warning. However, you could get a £60 fine and 3 points on your license, a notice allowing you 10 days to replace the light, or have your car taken off the road immediately.
  • If one of your headlights isn’t working, you could get a verbal warning, a £30 fine, 3 points and a £60 fine, or a notice allowing you 10 days to fix the issue.
  • It’s illegal to drive with your fog lights on in clear weather. You could receive a Fixed Penalty Notice – no points but a £30 fine.
  • Although there are no laws directly relating to the misuse of full beams, if you do have them on at the wrong time, you could get points on your licence for driving without care and attention. The same goes for using your hazard lights incorrectly.

How to use your car headlights:

  • Turn on sidelights when visibility is low
  • Daytime running lights are not a substitute for sidelights because they do not illuminate the rear of the vehicle
  • Switch on the headlights when visibility is “seriously reduced”
  • Use the fog lights when visibility is reduced to less than 100m by fog or spray
  • Turn on the dipped beam headlights to avoid dazzling other road users when driving at night
  • Turn on full beam headlights at night when the road ahead is completely clear – no oncoming traffic and no vehicles are in front of you

Using your car lights is really quite simple. Dipped lights are the brightest lights your car has that won’t dazzle other motorists. Therefore, get into the habit of always using them when visibility is poor, such as at dusk, at night and in bad weather. 

Turn on the full beam headlights when the road ahead is clear, but do not use them in fog or heavy rain, as the beam pattern creates a wall of light instead of illuminating the road ahead. When the weather gets particularly bad and visibility is significantly reduced, you can rely on fog lights.

Remember to regularly check that all of your lights are working correctly. Any blown out bulbs could put you at risk on the road. Get a friend to help you check your front and rear lights or take your car to your local garage.