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.

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  1. Monty
    January 23, 2017 at 7:57 am — Reply

    First outlaw “invisible” cars period. Many colours seem to be matched to the road surface. Then you get mods that black out headlights and tailights; darken the windows and you get a stealth vehicle. The military should be speaking to car companies for stealth ideas! One car company even advertises the shade as “stealth grey”. Visibility should be part of ANCAP testing. At least the blind spot monitoring on my Tiguan is a help when I’m changing lanes. Not so much when I’m overtaking on the open road and the near invisible car finally comes into view. The weather just adds another layer of risk. I don’t know why people are so attracted to the blandest colours. Are they embarrassed to be a car owner?

  2. Monty
    January 23, 2017 at 8:00 am — Reply

    As an addition to my previous comments, the lunacy is obvious when you look at personal safety. Workers are increasing required to wear hi vis clothing even to walk around a brightly lit factory. You see people driving near invisible cars but they are wearing high vis safety gear! Go figure.

  3. Galaxy Being
    January 23, 2017 at 8:23 am — Reply

    Excellent article. I think that it should be mandatory to have your headlamps on in poor weather. Running the risk of a fine for having driving lights on is dumb as it stops the use of lights to be visible. Dark cars should have DRLs fitted as standard too.

  4. Dan
    January 23, 2017 at 9:25 am — Reply

    Sensible idea, but how do you define rain? Do lights go on during intermittent drizzle or do we wait until it’s steady or it becomes torrential? You could connect the headlights to the rain sensor wipers (for those who have them), but then you’d have lights going on and off constantly. Perhaps lights on during reduced visibility is sufficient and let the police decide if you are not complying.

    • January 23, 2017 at 11:49 am — Reply

      What about just driving with the lights on all the time? – Isaac

      • Paskis
        February 7, 2018 at 8:06 pm — Reply

        just like motorbikes. Turn the bike on the light goes on. There’s no option and that’s how it should be

  5. simon gray
    January 23, 2017 at 10:11 am — Reply

    What about running lights at all times, with lights that are on when the car is on?

    • January 23, 2017 at 11:50 am — Reply

      Yep, these are a good start as the idea is about being visible to other motorists. But the problem is usually with older cars. – Isaac

      • JohnGC
        January 23, 2017 at 3:48 pm — Reply

        and also the problem is that some people turn their DRLs off. I’m not sure why this is even an option.

  6. Doug Mullett
    January 24, 2017 at 6:52 am — Reply

    The overall problem with using lights as visibility aids during daylight is that those who have good sight, can see cars without lights on, etc. DON’T use lights while those who don’t have good sight and can’t see cars without lights on DO use lights.
    Absolutely the wrong way around, but as decisions are up to the individual, it will most likely remain the same forever.

    • Ken Hammond
      January 27, 2017 at 6:43 pm — Reply

      Even if you have good eyes you can always see a car easier if it has lights on. Look at a line of cars coming toward you, one has lights on. Which car do you see first?

      • Doug Mullett
        January 27, 2017 at 9:05 pm — Reply

        I always see the roof of a vehicle coming towards me first. After that, I may see the headlights, but hopefully not in a priority order. Otherwise there is an explanation for collisions where the driver says they honestly didn’t see the other vehicle – they were distracted by the lights and by the time they realised there was another vehicle, they had already hit it.
        Plus, if a car is heading towards me out of the sun, if it has lights on, it is disguised. No lights, at least I can see its silhouette.

  7. Ken
    January 27, 2017 at 5:57 pm — Reply

    Can’t understand why anyone wants to be invisible. I always use headlights in the rain, when it’s dull and always when highway driving. Parking lights are useless for anything and may as well be removed from all cars.

  8. Alan
    January 27, 2017 at 6:02 pm — Reply

    NSW – and presumably other states – needs to get up to date. My first car with Daylight Running Lights (DRL) was made in 1980, yet no mention is made in their regulation.

    But the problem these days is that I think DRLs are often “for show”. My 1980 VOLVO brought on FRONT and REAR DRLs as soon as the engine started. But my 2016 TOYOTA has only FRONT DRLs. So, driving on the Motorway, I’m highly visible from the front, but not at all from the rear.

    Fog lights remain more trouble than they solve – most are hopeless in fog – the ones on WRXs and XR6s etc which shine so high would be hopeless in real fog – but they certainly are able to blind oncoming vehicles. Partly a design problem, but mostly a driver attitude problem.

    • JaiNormosone
      January 30, 2017 at 8:53 am — Reply

      Volvo has, for many years, been at the forefront of safety of occupants and others. It is because of Volvo that I drive most places with my lights on.

  9. Captain Cranky
    January 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    Stealth drivers… indeed.
    There is a widespread lack of common sense in people not using their lights in low visibility, or even in the dark, which I see a lot.
    I’ve noticed a lot of later model cars driving with their lights off at night. I suspect this is partly made worse by the fact that a lot of cars these days have the dash light up even when the headlights are off. I think this makes people actually think their lights are on… and we get back to where we started… lack of common sense… or can I just call a stupidity a stupidity?

  10. Paul Gillies
    January 28, 2017 at 9:01 am — Reply

    Please no more Laws and Fines in this Nanny state, just teach drivers when they get a license the common sense way of behaviour. If a driver needs remedial education then the annual registration renewal should also include an online 25 question rules test, that will educate those unwilling to behave correctly

  11. JaiNormosone
    January 30, 2017 at 8:51 am — Reply

    Good article. I like the addition of the legislation although just including the NSW segment when Australia has potentially eight different sets of the same legislation can provide confusing information. It seems incredibly stupid that those who make the laws seem to think that only government vehicles can have additional lights and everyone else who drives through the night can use the ineffectual fittings supplied by manufacturers.
    I’ve long been amazed at what I call the outright stupidity of people who don’t turn on their headlights or, in the case of newer cars, allow the auto function to turn them on and off as the electronics see fit. Being on a motorcycle most of the time, the light is always on and the spotlights come on in the rain as well. I don’t care if they dazzle someone because I’d rather be seen than be a victim of the SMIDSY* syndrome.
    The use of hazards at obstructions on the road is rarely seen. I use them myself as it can help prevent being run up from behind by someone who has gone to sleep at the abyssmal 100kph speed limit.
    (* SMIDSY… “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You)

  12. Paskis
    January 28, 2018 at 2:08 pm — Reply

    Idiotic article that’s not even proof read properly. The last thing Australia needs is more laws.

    • January 29, 2018 at 2:57 pm — Reply

      Not at all. The article reproduced the actual laws around headlight use as proof that the laws are confusing. I’m assuming, Paskis, that you think it’s okay for drivers to drive in the rain or fog with their headlights off? – Isaac

      • Paskis
        February 1, 2018 at 10:35 pm — Reply

        Yes. It’s not worthy of yet another law that cannot be enforced. Get some perspective.

        • February 2, 2018 at 5:32 pm — Reply

          Perspective? So you don’t mind an invisible car in a fog? – Isaac

          • Paskis
            February 7, 2018 at 1:11 pm

            Nope, because I don’t out drive the visibility. It could be a log, parked car, a trailer, a dog, not everything has lights on it. No more laws thank you. Remember if you hit something from behind, it’s your fault regardless of its lights.

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober