High-beam headlights are a safety device installed on all cars, yet a surprisingly large number of drivers do not use them. According to one study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), less than half of all drivers use their high-beams, even when they are appropriate. This study also found that many drivers overestimate how much they use their high-beams, and mistakenly think they can see well enough without them. However, correctly using high-beam and low-beam headlights is a simple way of improving your safety. It’s also the law.
When to Use Which Headlights
When to use high-beam or low-beam headlights depends on:
How dark it is outside
Where other cars are on the road
Low-beam headlights light-up the road for a distance of about 200 feet, equivalent to half a city block. When you cannot see farther than 200 feet using low-beams, you should switch to high-beams, unless:
Another vehicle is within 200 feet and approaching you from the opposite direction
You are less than 200 feet behind another vehicle
Heavy rain, fog, or snow are present
Using high-beams during adverse weather conditions can cause glare, making them unsafe. And any time your high-beams might blind someone on or near the roadway, you should switch back to low-beams. Generally, though, you should use high-beams in both cities and rural roads at night when other vehicles are not present and the weather is fair.
High-beams increase your visibility to 350 to 400 feet, or the distance of an average city block.
This increased visibility improves everyone’s safety, any time you are driving on dark streets or highways, especially if pedestrians, bikes, or animals are present. However, do not solely rely on high-beams, and remember to always adjust your driving speed according to the road conditions.
How to Change from Low-Beam to High-Beam
Different makes and models of cars have different methods for switching from low-beam to high-beam and back. In most cases, the mechanism is built into the lever next to the steering wheel, where the headlights are turned on and off. Alternatively, high-beams may be activated by a small button on the left side of the driver’s floor.
To change from low-beam to high-beam, simply turn on the headlights and then press the lever with your hand, or activate the floor button with your foot. To change back, simply repeat this action. In some models with lever-activated high-beams, you can press the lever in one direction to flash the high-beams once, and pressing in the other direction turns them on permanently.
High-Beam Assist Technology
Some newer models of cars have a technology called high-beam assist. This feature automatically adjusts the headlights to the correct setting, so you do not have to do anything. Until this technology becomes standard on all cars, cultivating a habit of using high-beam and low-beam headlights correctly will make you safer and may help you avoid a ticket.