Car lights and the law

Lesson Type
Last updated: 12 Nov 2019

If you take driving lessons in the evenings, you might well experience driving in the dark with your instructor. But all learner and new drivers should get at least some practice of driving in the dark before they take to the road alone. Plus the rules around it are likely to crop up in your theory test. So, it's important to know how to use your car lights and what the law says about them.

Daytime running lights

A new law came into force in 2011 stating that all passenger cars and small delivery vans must come equipped with daytime running lights. These lights are located on the front of a vehicle and are used to increase visibility for both motorists and pedestrians during daylight hours.

Daytime running lights (DRLs) come on when you start the ignition and go off when the sidelights or dipped beam headlights are switched on.

Side lights

You should use your side lights when it’s daylight but visibility is reduced due to bad weather conditions. Side lights aren’t particularly bright, so it’s important that you don’t use them as a substitute for headlights when it’s dark and that you remember to switch to dipped beam car lights when necessary.

Dipped beam lights

Dipped beam lights are the lights which you’ll normally be using when driving in the dark. You can also use your headlights when driving in adverse weather conditions such as snow or rain. Your car lights will be checked during your MOT, so you should always ensure that they’re working properly and that you replace the bulbs if they blow.

Because we drive on the left in the UK, our headlights are angled to the left in order to reduce glare to oncoming traffic. The opposite applies for countries where they drive on the right.

Driving with blown or faulty headlights could result in a fixed penalty notice and three points on your licence.

Full beam headlights

Full beam headlights are used to illuminate as much of the road ahead as possible. They should be used only where there is no oncoming traffic and there is no cars travelling ahead of you, as keeping them on can dazzle other road users. When driving at night, you should remember to turn them on and off accordingly. There will be a blue light on your dashboard to signify when they’re on.

Fog lights

Driving in fog can be scary, especially when you’re a new driver. Visibility can be seriously reduced, making seeing other drivers and pedestrians much harder than it usually is. Fog lights are much brighter than than your car’s head and tail lights, meaning other drivers and pedestrians are still able to see you through the fog.

Some cars have front and back fog lights, whilst some only one fog light on the back. A light will be illuminated on your dashboard when your fog lights are on.

Brake lights

The majority of modern vehicles have three brake lights: two on either side and one in the centre. It’s really important that you check yours are working regularly, as faulty brake lights can cause accidents. Checking your brake lights can be tricky, but you could get a friend to check them for you or use the reflection of a window to make sure they’re all working.

The penalty for having defective or blown brake lights depends on the severity of the offence and police discretion. If, for example, one bulb has blown, you might just be warned to change it. If, on the other hand, more than one of your car’s lights are out, you might receive a fixed penalty notice and three penalty points on your licence.