Headlights (and tail lights)

Driving to NoVA yesterday in the sometimes pouring rain, I was struck by how many cars did not have their headlights on. I understood it was the law that headlights were required (even though I’ve had no luck in tracking down the legislation). Note this information from the DMV (emphasis mine):

Virginia law requires motorists to use headlights during inclement weather such as rain, fog, snow or sleet when visibility is reduced to 500 feet. You must use your headlights whenever you use your windshield wipers as a result of bad weather.

So what’s up with all those cars in front of me with no tail lights on?After a while, it dawned on me: they were using daytime running lights! With daytime running lights on, the tail lights are not lit.

So, it begs the question: are daytime running lights the same as headlights? If they are, then the legislation requiring headlights needs to be amended to include tail lights. After all, when driving down 95 in the rain, it’s not the cars coming towards me that are the problem; instead, it’s the ones in front of me, who I can barely see due to the spray from the tires. (And why does it seem everybody is buying grey or silver cars these days?)

14 thoughts on “Headlights (and tail lights)

  1. § 46.2-1030. When lights to be lighted; number of lights to be lighted at any time; use of warning lights.

    A. Every vehicle in operation on a highway in the Commonwealth shall display lighted headlights and illuminating devices as required by this article (i) from sunset to sunrise, (ii) during any other time when, because of rain, smoke, fog, snow, sleet, insufficient light, or other unfavorable atmospheric conditions, visibility is reduced to a degree whereby persons or vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet, and (iii) whenever windshield wipers are in use as a result of fog, rain, sleet, or snow. The provisions of this subsection, however, shall not apply to instances when windshield wipers are used intermittently in misting rain, sleet, or snow.


    D. The failure to display lighted headlights and illuminating devices under the conditions set forth in clause (iii) of subsection A of this section shall not constitute negligence per se, nor shall violation of clause (iii) of subsection A of this section constitute a defense to any claim for personal injury or recovery of medical expenses for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident.

    E. No demerit points shall be assessed for failure to display lighted headlights and illuminating devices during periods of fog, rain, sleet, or snow in violation of clause (iii) of subsection A of this section.

    F. No citation for a violation of clause (iii) of subsection A of this section shall be issued unless the officer issuing such citation has cause to stop or arrest the driver of such motor vehicle for the violation of some other provision of this Code or local ordinance relating to the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle or any criminal statute.


    I don’t believe that daytime running lights (DRLs) count as headlights. They don’t provide the same amount of light. Not to mention that DRLs were against the law until a couple years ago until the United States Department of Transportation authorized their use beginning in 1995. The Code of Virginia refers to DRLs as a separate system than regular headlights making it seem as if headlights are a require and DRLs don’t cut it.

  2. Well, considering that most people take Driver’s Ed in PUBLIC SCHOOL, and that people are not tested on the changes in the laws, we cannot expect much, can we?

  3. Actually, Mouse, the law is relatively new. So I’m not sure what your point is, given that most drivers on the road having been driving a lot longer than the law has been around.

    And people are tested when they renew their licenses – if they meet certain criteria, ie, have enough traffic violations.

  4. Actually, I think the people who teach driver’s ed in PUBLIC SCHOOL are some of the most courageous people around. Just go over to the courthouse parking lot on the afternoon that the teenagers get their licenses and you will see what I mean.

  5. Is driver’s ed optional in VA schools? It certainly was in GA, and since it was (relatively) expensive, very few people ended up taking it. Of course, that didn’t stop anyone from getting their license and breezing through sobriety checkpoints in short order, but hey, it was Georgia.


    If there ever were any substance to the legislature’s claims that it’s interested in improving safety on the road, there would be a near cost free way to achieve it – make driver’s license tests mean something in this country.

  6. The first point was that there is no mechanism to apprise people of new laws. I just recently renewed my license, and the DMV provided no information on the new laws, nor were there questions about them on the test.

    The second point was that I was taking a gratuitous cheap shot at public schools. 🙂

  7. Well, the DMW might not do it but the MSM always reports on new laws going into effect. Perhaps the DMV should provide some info to those renewing their licenses, but given the potential time lag (isn’t is up to 7 years between renewals, based on age?) I’m not sure how they could do it efficiently.

    MB – I don’t know how they do drivers’ ed in schools these days. I took it a LONG time ago in school.

  8. Driver’s education is a requirement for anyone getting their license unless they’re 19 or older. If you complete driver’s ed, then you are not required to take the in-vehicle portion of the test at the DMV (since you do it during driver’s ed).

    At most public high schools, driver’s ed is taught in the 10th grade. It includes an in-classroom portion (including tests), as well as behind the wheel training, and finally the in-vehicle test. Obviously, you have to obtain your learner’s permit before you can do the behind the wheel portion.

    If your higher school doesn’t teach it (or you attend a private school that doesn’t) you have to find a company that does and complete driver’s ed with them.

  9. I feel like that’s different from when I took driver’s ed in Virginia, although not tremendously so. I may just not remember back that far, and usually when I’m on the freeway looking around aghast and wondering how in the hell all of these people managed to get their drivers licenses, I don’t stop to reflect on the actual process by which some of these lunatics were licensed.

    On the actual topic, though, people should be using their headlights as opposed to running lights because its in their best interest for you to be able to see their tail lights illuminated. I remember a few years back I was rear-ended twice by inattentive drivers in a ten-day period, and it wasn’t fun. I’m happy to do whatever it takes to help you not inadvertently break my neck or destroy my car. 🙂

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