This is Exactly When You Should Use Your High Beam Headlights While Driving

Get the lowdown on high beams.

If you’ve ever driven at night and been temporarily blinded by a car with their high beams on, then you know that many of the best driving lessons come only from experience. Sure, when you first start learning you memorize the road signs and rules, but having to actually apply those lessons in real life is quite a different experience. Understanding when to use your hazard lights, how to brake on black ice, or why a cop touches your tail light during traffic stops are only some of the experiences you’ll gain behind the wheel. Another important lesson: knowing when to use your high and low beam headlights at night. There is a safe way to use your high beams for better visibility, without blinding other drivers.

When to use your high beams

All cars are installed with high beam headlights. They’re a safety device, yet many people never use them. Maybe they’re concerned about blinding other drivers or perhaps they think they can see well enough without them. The fact is, there are some circumstances when it’s advised to use your high beams, which can increase your visibility to around 350 to 400 feet, or about the distance of one city block.

Use your high beams when driving on dark streets or highways in good weather, when there is little or no traffic. Using them in rain or fog can cause glare, and actually lessen the range of visibility. High beams are great in rural areas, but can also be used in cities or towns when it’s dark and there are few other cars on the road. They can help you avoid animals and spot road signs when it’s pitch black out. Just remember to look for other cars’ headlights coming from the opposite direction so you can switch back to low beams when you see someone coming. With some practice, you should be able to do it even while listening to the best podcasts for road trips.

When to use your low beams

Low beams should be used during bad weather, on very overcast, cloudy days, and any other time there’s low visibility. Some car models automatically switch on the low beam headlights any time the car is in motion, because it’s been proven that drivers are more likely to see you if you have your headlights on. This is true even during the day! Some colors of car are simply less visible (especially darker colors), so it’s a nice safety precaution. When it’s dark out, low beams give you about 200 feet of visibility, or about half a city block.

How to switch between low beam and high beam headlights

For most cars, switching between low beam and high beam headlights is as simple as turning on your headlights, and pushing your headlight lever away from you for high beams. To switch back to low beams, simply pull the lever back toward you. A symbol on your dashboard will light up when your high beams are on, in case you’ve forgotten which you’ve got switched on.

Some newer cars have high beam assist technology, which automatically switches them on and off as appropriate. Until this is standard on all cars, it’s up to you to drive as safely as possible. That means knowing exactly when to use your high beams.

What about those super bright headlights?

In the last few years, you may have noticed that the regular low beam headlights on cars seem a lot brighter than they used to. Well, it’s not your imagination. With the rise of environmentally friendly (but colder and harsher) LED (light-emitting diode) lights in homes and offices, car headlights are increasingly moving away from the warmer halogen lights we’re used to.

These new headlights look like high beams, but they’re actually LED bulbs. If you drive a car, you’ve likely had the experience of these incredibly bright lights blinding you in your rear-view mirror because they’re mounted higher up on the truck or SUV behind you—right at your eye level. It can make driving at night potentially more dangerous. No one can drive as safely in the face of super bright headlight glare from both oncoming and rear traffic.

Even more concerning is the fact that many of these LED low beam replacement bulbs are purchased online and installed by individual drivers—and they’re actually illegal. If you need to purchase new headlight bulbs, look for the mark on the bulb that indicates Department of Transport approval, and encourage your friends and family (especially those driving larger vehicles) to do the same. It will make driving safer for enjoying the best road trips in America.


Chloë Nannestad
Chloë Nannestad is a lifestyle writer covering crafts, holidays, beauty and amazing products for When she's not scouring the internet or reading product reviews, she's planning her next backpacking trip and thinking about getting a dog.