Useful Car Tips

How to Use Headlight Modes Correctly

April 08, 2020
Although it may seem like a trivial mattermerely something any experienced driver does almost automaticallyusing your headlights correctly may be a little more complex than it first appears. This is primarily due to the various modes headlights can have, among them being low beam, high beam, fog lights, parking lights, and daytime running lights. All have practical and legal distinctions which govern their correct use under different circumstances. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an inadvertent (or perhaps intentional) flash of oncoming high beam headlights, you know how important it is to be truly mindful of one’s headlight modes. Essentially, all headlight modes serve a specialized purpose and it’s important for every driver to be well-acquainted with their proper usage. Are you looking to brush up on your knowledge of headlight modes? Here’s a breakdown of most of the ones you’ll encounter.


When driving at night under standard conditions, low beam headlights are the ones you’ll want to use. Low beams are generally bright enough to illuminate roads at night without blinding other vehicles traveling in the same or opposite direction. The symbol for low beams roughly resembles the letter “D” with several lines protruding at a slightly downward angle from it. Do not confuse this with the similar symbol for high beams! Both may look similar superficially but serve far different purposes in practice.


The symbol for high beam headlights also resembles the letter “D” with lines protruding from it, although the high beam symbol uses horizontal lines, not downward-sloping ones. You should see a small blue high beam symbol in your gauge cluster when your high beams are on. Utilize high beams only when you cannot see the road ahead of you well enough at night, and only when there are no oncoming vehicles. Generally, you should always use high beams in rural areas or on very dark, unlit roads when traveling at high speed.


Fog lights are used when driving in, get this … foggy conditions. In reality, it’s rarely necessary to use fog lamps, although they may provide that extra bit of visibility in particularly poor weather conditions. Not all vehicles come with fog lights although they are frequently offered as optional extras on higher trim levels. If your vehicle does have them, their symbol somewhat resembles the low beam indicator, except with the inclusion of a vertical line through the slanted ones.


Parking lights are perhaps the least understood lights among drivers. Originally designed in an era where street lighting was still quite uncommon, they were historically used to alert other drivers to the presence of the operator’s parked car—in short, used only while parked. In the modern day, their original function has fallen out of use, although they can still be used in other applications. The symbol for parking lights resembles the letter “D” with three lines radiating from it, with this design being horizontally mirrored.


As you may have noticed, light modes have a fairly self-explanatory naming convention, and daytime running lights are no exception to this rule. DRLs are primarily designed to be used whenever low beams aren’t needed—mostly in the daytime when outdoor light is still abundant. While not quite as bright as low beams (by design, of course), DRLs are still quite versatile and can even be used on cloudy days when visibility may be slightly hindered. The symbol for DRLs consists of a solidly-colored letter “D” with three rows of dots radiating from it.


While using your various headlight modes is fairly straightforward, it’s still a good idea to have a basic understanding of your local laws governing their use. Some cities, counties, or regions you travel to can have certain technicalities you are unfamiliar with. To avoid a potential fine and the money and time it may take to resolve it, consider brushing up on your knowledge and reading the laws in your region. They can often be easily found online. For example, the state of New York clearly outlines all applicable headlight laws online. Headlights need to be in good condition to work effectively, so if you feel that your headlights might need a little TLC, check out our previous Fortem guides on restoring your headlights and upgrading your headlights Now that you know how each mode works and how much safer regular headlight usage can be, make use of this information if you’re a new driver and stay safe on the roads this cold winter season!
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