Driving in the rain… should there be laws around headlights?

It seems that whenever it rains the road becomes something like a version of Mario Brothers… with many drivers refusing to use their headlights.

ON A RUN down to the airport last week the highway started to feel like a battleground. It was raining. Hard.

Commonsense would dictate that when it’s hard to be seen by those around you you want to make sure you can be seen by those around you. But the problem with commonsense is that it isn’t particularly common.

On my drive to the airport it seemed that, rather than slowing down in the torrential rain, cars began going faster, and they seemed to be tailgating harder too. The ones that I could see… see there were some travelling in stealth mode. Yep, they’re the ones who drive during heavy rain or fog with their headlights turned off.

Combine extinguished headlights on a silver car on a grey road in heavy rain and the car becomes virtually invisible until the very last minute. And that’s an absolute recipe for disaster. So, should there be laws regarding using headlights during rain or fog, something that can give commonsense a bit of nudge in the right direction?

Well, like driving in the rain, the laws regarding headlights are a bit of a great area. And I mean that they refer to the use of additional lights, like LED bars, or the use of fog lights an hazard warning lights, and specify emergency situations and all the times you can’t use lights, but, and these are the NSW laws, don’t mention when a normal driver should use their car’s lights…

(The below is taken from: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_reg/rr2014104/s218.1.html)

“218-1 NSW rule: using lights on vehicles generally 

“The driver of a vehicle must not: 

(a) use any fog light fitted to the vehicle unless the driver is driving in fog, mist or under other atmospheric conditions that restrict visibility, or 

(b) use any spot or search light fitted to the vehicle unless:

(i) the vehicle is stationary and the light is used only for the purpose of examining or making adjustments or repairs to a vehicle, and the light from the light is not projected more than 6 metres, or 

(ii) the light is used for the temporary purpose of reading any finger or notice board or house number, or 

(iii) the vehicle is being driven or used by a police officer in the performance of the officer’s duty, or 

(iv) the vehicle is being used by a governmental or semi-governmental or local government or other authority in connection with its functions, or 

(c) use any additional headlight permitted to be fitted to the vehicle by the applicable vehicle standards law when the vehicle is being driven on a length of road for which there is provision for the lighting by means of road lighting or when any approaching vehicle is visible to the driver, or 

(d) flash any headlight or additional headlight permitted to be fitted to the vehicle by clause 86 (6) of Schedule 2 to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (or, in the case of a heavy vehicle, a corresponding heavy vehicle standard) unless: 

(i) the vehicle is being used to respond to an emergency and is being driven by a person who is authorised to drive the vehicle and has identification or any other distinguishing mark indicating that authority, or 

(ii) the vehicle is a bus and the warning system (within the meaning of clause 25 of the Road Transport (General) Regulation 2013 ) is activated as required by rule 222-2, or 

(e) use any light permitted to be fitted to the vehicle by clause 124 (4) of Schedule 2 to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (or, in the case of a heavy vehicle, a corresponding heavy vehicle standard) unless: 

(i) the vehicle is standing in a hazardous position or moving in hazardous circumstances, or 

(ii) the vehicle is an ambulance, police vehicle, fire fighting vehicle, mines rescue or other rescue vehicle, Red Cross vehicle or another emergency vehicle that is being used for urgent purposes arising from an accident, fire or other emergency, or 

(iii) the vehicle is a motor vehicle or trailer that is transporting any load that exceeds the maximum length, width or height limits set out in the applicable vehiclestandards law or any other vehicle used to escort such vehicles and either vehicle is being used for such purposes, or 

(iv) the vehicle is being used by the Authority or a police officer for law enforcement purposes, or 

(f) use any device referred to in clause 125 of Schedule 2 to the Road Transport (Vehicle Registration) Regulation 2007 (or, in the case of a heavy vehicle, a corresponding heavy vehicle standard) or any hazard warning signal complying with the requirements of the third edition ADR relating to the installation of lighting and light-signalling devices: 

(i) if the vehicle is not a bus-unless the vehicle is standing in a hazardous position or moving in hazardous conditions, or 

(ii) if the vehicle is a bus-unless the bus is standing in a hazardous position or moving in hazardous conditions or while the bus is stopped to allow a passenger to get on or off the bus.”

And then there’s the information on the main Roads and Maritime Services website about the sue of lights on vehicles. It is:

“Lights and warning devices

At night or when driving in hazardous weather conditions with reduced visibility, your vehicle must have clearly visible:

  • Headlights
  • Tail lights
  • Number plate lights
  • Clearance lights and side marker lights if these are fitted to your vehicle.


In many daytime situations driving with your vehicle’s headlights on can improve the likelihood of being seen by other road users. This applies to both country and city driving situations. Your headlights must be on when:

  • Driving between sunset and sunrise
  • At any other time when there is not enough daylight to be able to see a person wearing dark clothing at a distance of 100 metres

High beam

To see further ahead use your headlights on high beam on any road even if there are street lights.

 You must dip your headlights to low beam:

  • When a vehicle coming toward you is within 200 metres (see image).
Two vehicles facing each other approaching a distance of 200m
  • When driving 200 metres or less behind another vehicle (see image).
One vehicle approaching 200m behind another vehicle

When you overtake another vehicle, you may briefly switch to high beam immediately before starting the overtaking manoeuvre.

Avoid lights that may dazzle

Do not use or allow any light fitted to your vehicle to dazzle another road user.

Avoid looking at the headlights of oncoming vehicles. If you are dazzled by glaring or high beam lights, look to the left side of the road and drive to the left of your lane, slow down or pull over until your eyes recover.

Parking lights

Make sure that other road users can see your parked vehicle. Leave your parking or hazard lights on if necessary.

Fog lights

Front and rear fog lights must only be used in fog or rain, or when conditions such as smoke and dust limit your vision. It is a legal requirement that once conditions improve and you can see more clearly, the front and rear fog lights are switched off.

If your vehicle is not fitted with fog lights you may use your headlights during the day in these adverse conditions.

Hazard warning lights

Your vehicle’s hazard warning lights must not be used unless the vehicle is:

  • Stopped and obstructing the path of other vehicles or pedestrians
  • Slow-moving and obstructing other road users
  • Stopped in an emergency stopping lane
  • Stopped to sell a product such as food and refreshment
  • Driving in hazardous weather conditions
  • Fitted with hazard lights as part of an anti-theft or alcohol interlock device.

Horns and other warning devices

You must not use the horn or any other warning device unless:

  • You need to warn other road users that your vehicle is approaching
  • You need to warn animals to get off the road
  • The horn is being used as part of an anti-theft or alcohol interlock device fitted to your vehicle.

Emergency vehicles

Give way when you hear a siren or see the flashing blue or red lights of an emergency vehicle such as Police, Fire Brigade or Ambulance. The siren means to get out of the way so the emergency vehicle has a clear passage through traffic.

Generally, traffic pulls over to the left until the vehicle passes.”

See what I mean? There’s a grey area around driving in the rain and using your headlights. And that’s because using your headlights during heavy rain isn’t so much about being able to see a person in dark clothing at 100m and more about making your near two-tonne vehicle travelling at 100km/h visible to another motorist either following you or driving towards you.

The other concern I have is that when it rains, and I’m talking about very heavy rain that reduces visibility to much less than 100m, some drivers will slow down while others will speed up thinking, maybe, that they’re invisible to the police.

This means the country’s highways become, when it rains, more like a game of Mario Brothers. So, what’s the solution? My suggestion is that those who drive during the rain without headlights on should be fined.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober