Skip to main content

5 Headlight Safety Tips for the Fall Time Change

Don't Let Daytime Running Lights Trick You

Autumn is in full swing and daylight hours are shrinking. The end of daylight saving time for most states is November 5, costing us an hour of sleep and banishing any lingering thoughts of summer. We'll be spending even more time every day driving around in the dark — commuting, picking up kids and running errands. We'll be using our headlights a lot more.

And yet many drivers never turn on their headlights at all, even when it's completely dark outside. You may have seen these drivers — and shaken your head at them. The culprits are LED-backlit gauge clusters and LED daytime running lights.

Most car manufacturers now include daytime running lights as standard equipment and most employ LED lighting. But daytime running lights are not the same as headlights, and mistaking the two can mean a ticket, or worse.

Daytime running lights (halogen or LED) are, by design, dimmer than headlights. They don't illuminate the road the way headlights do. And when the daytime running lights are in use, the taillights (and license plate lights) aren't illuminated at all, meaning that your car is nearly invisible from behind.

2018 Jaguar F-Type

Drivers aren't intentionally leaving off their headlights. Here's what is probably going on:

  • People might think their headlights are on, but they're only using the very bright LED daytime running lights.
  • People might be driving in areas illuminated by streetlamps or other light sources where daytime running lights alone might be just fine, even though their cars aren't as visible to other drivers.
  • People might be used to driving older cars, in which the gauge clusters didn't light up until the headlights were on. But now, many cars have LED gauge clusters that stay illuminated all the time. Drivers who just made the switch to a new car might be waiting for a headlight nudge they're not going to get.

2018 Ford Mustang

Here are a few tips that can ensure safe (and well-lighted) driving, for fall or any time:

  1. Check your owner's manual (or look up your vehicle online) to familiarize yourself with your vehicle's symbols for both daytime running lights and headlights. Then you'll know at a glance which of the two you have on.
  2. Make sure your headlights and taillights are working and replace any nonworking bulbs immediately.
  3. Always use the automatic headlights setting if your vehicle has it.
  4. Warn oncoming drivers who aren't using their headlights (with a quick flash of yours). Then double-check that your headlights are on, too.
  5. Get into the habit of always turning on your headlights at the first sign of dusk and, if you're driving in the wee hours, leaving them on until after sunrise. Every state has its own laws about when headlights must be used.

No matter your car's make or model year, you can still be susceptible to a bout of headlight forgetfulness. Here's how to reduce the chances of it happening.

"It's important for drivers to learn the lighting systems in their vehicles," explained Ron Montoya, Edmunds' senior consumer advice editor. "If the car has automatic lights, leave them on. If not, make sure you turn your headlights on in the early hours of the morning, at dusk or whenever visibility is compromised.

"Having your headlights on may not help you see better in the day," he said. "But they will make your vehicle much easier for other drivers to spot on the road."

What our partners recommend

BMW 2023 3 Series

BMW Summer On Sales Event

Latest car news from our experts

See all car news