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High-Beam Headlights 101: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Safe Driver

High-Beam Headlights 101: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Safe Driver

Zutobi

by Zutobi · Updated Dec 03, 2020

In this guide we’ll cover everything about high-beam headlights and how you should use them. Learn about:

  • What High Beam Headlights are
  • When to Use High Beam Headlights
  • When to Dim Your High Beam Headlights
  • What to Do If You Get Blinded by Another Driver’s High Beams
  • How Far High Beams and Low Beams Let You See

What are High Beam Headlights?

The strongest headlights in your car are called high beam headlights. The high beam headlights are used at night and in poor lighting conditions to light up as much of the road ahead as possible as you drive. High beams light up far more of the road compared to normal low-beam “dipped” headlights.

Tip: You must be able to stop within the distance of your lights, or it will be too late to stop without hitting an object by the time you see it. 

While high beam headlights provide more light than low beams, the light is strong enough to temporarily blind other drivers and pedestrians if used incorrectly. To prevent the high beams from blinding other drivers, all states have specific requirements that regulate when you may use high beams and when to dip or switch them off (i.e. turn to low beams).

When to Use High Beam Headlights

High beams light up far more of the road than low beams and enable you to see much farther ahead when dark. They drastically increase the chance of you seeing an object or hazard on or near the road. You should use high beams every legal chance you get. We’ll go through when you may legally use high beams below.

1 – In urban areas with low visibility

Even within urban areas, the roads can be dark with low visibility. You can use high beams to see further ahead if you are driving in an urban area without street lighting. Using high beams in those situations will make the roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists on or near the road.

Be prepared to dip your headlights to avoid blinding other drivers. We’ll go through when to dip your headlights in more detail later in this article.

2 – On interstate highways, country roads, and rural areas

a dark country road where high beam headlights should be used
Use high beams on roads like these

On any country roads or rural areas with sparse street lighting, you should use high beams as often as you can. High beams will allow you to drive much safer and with more confidence. The additional light will allow you to see animals on or close to the road and, more importantly, pedestrians and bicyclists walking on the edge of the road.

3 – On interstate highways

Use high beams when suitable on interstate highways but be prepared to dim when necessary to avoid blinding other drivers.

When To Dip Your High Beam Headlights

As high-beam headlights can also blind other drivers, you need to dip your high-beams before you risk blinding other drivers. The exact distance to other vehicles will vary from state to state (look for your state here).

In general, high beam headlights must not be used within:

  • 300 feet or less when driving behind another vehicle
  • 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle
illusatration showing to dim your headlights 300 feet or less when driving behind another vehicle
You must dip your headlights to low beam when driving 300 feet or less behind another vehicle
illusatration showing to dim your headlights 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle
You must dip your headlights to low beam when an oncoming vehicle is within 500 feet

What to Do If You Get Blinded by Another Driver’s High Beams

Oncoming drivers sometimes forget to dip their high-beam headlights or change to low-beams when passing. To avoid being blinded, you can look toward the right edge of your lane and watch the position of the oncoming vehicle out of the corner of the eye. 

How Far Will High Beams and Low Beams Let You See?

  • Low-beam headlights let you see up to about 200 feet and are suitable for speeds up to 25 mph
  • High-beam headlights let you see up to about 350 feet and are suitable for speeds faster than 25 mph.

Don’t Overdrive Your Headlights

As you must be able to stop within the distance of your lights, high beams are often used when driving faster than 25 mph in low-visibility conditions. If driving faster than 25 mph with low-beam headlights, it may be too late to stop without hitting an object by the time you see it. 

the stopping distance versus the visibility illustrated

Don’t drive too fast at night as your stopping distance may be longer than your visibility!

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