Keep your headlights on

Johnson City Press • Feb 14, 2020 at 7:00 AM

If you’ve seen vehicles on the road at night with headlights off, you’re not alone. This seems more of a problem in the cities because most streets are well lit. Unless a vehicle is equipped with automatic headlights (which most newer ones are), drivers may miss turning the lights on when they can see everything around them.

Driving at night with the headlights off endangers the motoring public and risks fines ranging from $90 to $200 depending on your locale. Tennessee code requires headlights to be on from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise and also during fog, smoke, rain “and at all other times when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible any person on the road at a distance of 200 feet ahead of the vehicle.”

In older vehicles, dashboards remained dark until the driver switched headlights on. This made it easy for motorists to tell whether their headlights were on or off. But dashboards in modern cars come on when the engine starts, and you may not realize the headlights are off, or that you have inadvertently turned off auto headlights. Indeed, with auto headlights drivers just assume they’re on and may not notice if they’re not working, or that perhaps one is burned out.

It’s also a traffic offense to drive with only one headlight, taillight or license plate light failure. That’s all the cause an officer needs to pull you over.

Some drivers have poor situational awareness and don’t realize they’re driving without lights or perhaps driving only with fog lights because they have the kind of switch that must be turned all the way. Driving with lights too dim or too bright may also lead to a ticket.

Be careful when you replace a light. As of Jan. 1 last year, Tennessee approved a change to a law regarding the color of lights on vehicles. “No vehicle operated in this state shall be equipped with any steady-burning lights that display to the front of the vehicles in any color other than white or amber or in any combination of colors other than white and amber.” There are exceptions provided for specialized vehicles, and the statute sets out what those exceptions are.

The statute uses the term “equipped,” indicating a vehicle cannot have lights on its front other than white or amber regardless of whether they’re turned on. Red, blue, green or other color lights are therefore prohibited. That also applies to lights some folks place underneath their vehicle but that are visible from the front. The statute further prohibits the equipping of vehicles with any flashing lights in any combination of colors that display to the front of the vehicle other than factory-installed emergency flashers.

Make it a habit to check that your headlights are on. You might save yourself some money. Most important, you might prevent an accident.