Where can you legally mount LED lightbars?
LED lightbars have been popular over recent years, but as ever the road authorities across Australia have been slow to amend the rules – where can you legally mount LED lightbars?
The first principle of vehicle modifications in Australia is that the answer is always state-specific. Sadly, each part of Australia has its own road authority, which has a slightly different set of rules so what’s legal in one state may not be legal in another. Because, well, who knows. We just have to live with the pain.
LED lights are popular because they’re relatively cheap, provide a nice, white light, are small and easy to mount relative to conventional driving lights. And they look cool. LED bars are not a subsitute for spotlights because there’s just not enough room to design a reflector which can throw light a reasonable distance, so instead they’re best used as short-range fill lights for manouvering, low-range driving, recovery or working.
The law used to state that all driving lamps had to be mounted in pairs so that the lighting was symmetrical. This made sense for the conventional circular lamps, but not for a light bar which while a single light is so broad it can be mounted symmetrically. Eventually, the appropriate Australian Design Rule (ADR), number 13/00, was amended to permit use of lightbars provided they were “fitted to the front of the vehicle, symmetrically about the centre”. However…they didn’t specify a minimum width or height, so you could have a very short lightbar and technically still be legal. Wouldn’t recommend pushing your luck though. At least now all states and territories permit lightbars, so we’re all good now with consistent regulations?
No, that’s be too easy. Below are some excerpts, and the bold text highlights some inconsistencies:
Here’s Vicroads’ official words on the subject:
- The lamps should, as far as is possible, be installed symmetrically in pairs to the front of the vehicle.
- If lamps are not fitted as pairs (e.g. one, three etc), they must be fitted to the front of the vehicle, symmetrically about the centre.
- A maximum of four driving lamps (including LED light bars) can be fitted to a vehicle in addition to the vehicle’s main beam headlamps.
- The lamp/s must be installed in a way that the light produced does not cause the driver of the vehicle discomfort either directly or by reflection.
- The lamp/s must only come on when the main-beam (high beam) headlamps are used, and must automatically turn off when the main-beam headlamps are turned off.
- The lamps must not obstruct the driver’s view of the road.
What about SA?
LED Light Bars and additional headlights may be fitted, provided that they meet the following requirements:
- The light or lights must be installed to be forward facing and in a position that does not obscure the driver’s view of the road ahead.
- The lights should, as far as is possible, be installed symmetrically in pairs of between 2 or 4 lights.
- If the lights are not fitted as pairs, they must be fitted symmetrically about the centre line of the vehicle.
- The lights may be fitted to the roof of the vehicle.
- The light or lights must not be fitted or be used in any way that is likely to dazzle another road user and must be installed in a way that the light produced does not cause the driver of the vehicle discomfort either directly or by reflection.
- The light/s must only come on when the main-beam (high beam) headlights are used, and must automatically turn off when the main-beam headlights are turned off.
- The driving lights may be fitted with an isolator switch to allow high beam to be switched on without the driving lights also being switched on.
And here’s WA:
The exemption is subject to compliance with the following conditions:
- The LED light bar(s) must be installed at the front of the vehicle and not higher than the front
edge of the bonnet.
- The LED light bar(s) must be installed horizontally and located symmetrically about the
longitudinal centre line of the vehicle.
- The LED light bar(s) must be forward facing and positioned in a way that the light produced
does not cause the driver of the vehicle discomfort, either directly or by reflection while in the normal driving position.
- The LED light bar(s) must only operate when the high-beam headlights are in operation and
must automatically turn off when the high-beam headlights are turned off.
- A manual switch must be provided to allow the LED light bar to be deactivated, so that it is
not on whether the high beam is on or off. This switch must be accessible to the driver of
the vehicle from the normal driving position.
- The LED light bar(s) must only emit white light.
- The LED light bar(s) shall not obstruct the driver’s view of the roadway more than 11 metres
ahead of the driver’s eye position when looking through the windscreen, with the driver’s
seat in the rearmost position
- One or more (to a maximum of four) LED light bars may be fitted as additional driving lamps
Here’s an official WA government image showing how bars can be mounted:
And they have another:
Queensland has a similar take on it here:
Driving lamps may be fitted above the roof line. The driving lamps must be fitted to the front half of the vehicle, when measured from the front to the rearmost point of the vehicle.
however, it goes on to talk about not increasing the risk of pedestrian injury, line of sight of the driver and so on. That means the above statement is not a license to install the lights wherever and however you please on the roof. It also specifically mentions protrusions.
Enough! What does all this mean?
The rules excerpts above all more or less say the same thing, but every authority has put their own slant on it. One problem is that absolutes such as “you will not mount lights on your roof” (unless you’re in WA) have been replaced by “do not dazzle another road user” and “cause driver discomfort”. This is good because it gives freedom of placement, but bad because it’s hard to define what dazzling or discomfort is.
So, below I’ve written a conservative interpretation based on reading the above and other sources which appears to comply with all the states’ various demands. But as I’m not transport minister, it’s not law so use at your own disrection and as guidance only:
- Number of driving lights – maximum four. This may be 2 x pairs of spotties, 4 x lightbars, 2 x spotties and 2 x lightbars. The rules are clear on this.
- Mounting – symmetrical relative to the centreline of the vehicle, even if Vicroads have poor wording. Rules clear here too.
- Switching – driving lights only able to be switched on with full beam, and full beam must be operable without the driving lights. That seems to be safest and is what most people do anyway.
- Orientation – long side of the lightbar to the horizontal.
- Location – no higher than the car’s headlights. If you do that, then there shouldn’t be any drama with arguments over dazzling other users, discomfort and so on. You could perhaps mount higher legally, if you’re prepared to handle the dazzle/discomfort issue. The actual words from ADR13 are “illuminate the road ahead of the vehicle without causing undue dazzle or discomfort to oncoming drivers and other road‑users”.
- Direction – forward facing. Best to make them all exactly forwards facing or very nearly so.
- Obstruction – no part of the light visible from the driver’s seat. Then no worries about obstructing forwards view.
- Light colour – white.
So far, I’m yet to hear of anyone having compliance issues if the above list is adhered to. Oh, and don’t forget to allow adequate cooling space too.
Dear Road Authorities of Australia – feel free to copy the above as standard wording.
A quick note HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps
Can you upgrade your headlights to HIDs? Yes, if you do it legally? That means you also add:
- an automatic headlight levelling device
- headlamp cleaners
You’ll also need to redesign the reflector so that it works properly with the HIDs. Basically, the effort isn’t worth it and if you want more light then fit a set of spotties. More on this in Australian Design Rule 13.