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Obviously, in certain cases, California law requires you turn your car headlights on. But when it isn't required, is it nevertheless legal to keep them on, or are there situations when it is illegal to drive with your headlights on? And if so, what are those cases?

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    This question sounds strange to me as I can't think why would it be forbidden to have the headlights on anywhere in the world. Is there a case where you'd get a ticket for having headlights on? – gmauch Oct 24 '17 at 18:50
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    @gmauch Unless they have changed their traffic regulations recently, it is prohibited in Greece. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 24 '17 at 19:39
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    Interestingly, in California and many other jurisdictions driving with only your parking lights on is illegal any time. I don't think you'd ever get a ticket for it during the day, but something to be aware of. Make sure the lights are "all the way on" instead of just having the parking lights on. – JPhi1618 Oct 24 '17 at 20:08
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo How strange! Would like to know the reasoning behind that prohibition! I remember being in cars (in Canada, back in the late 90's) that did not have a headlight switch. They would simply be on all the time the motor was running. – gmauch Oct 24 '17 at 21:08
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    Using headlights all the time is required where I live. What amazes me, there are plenty of people that oppose it, because it "degrades fuel economy", and makes them "change light bulbs more often". – el.pescado Oct 25 '17 at 8:11
44

Yes, it is absolutely legal to drive with your low-beam headlights on at any time. High-beam headlights must not be used when there is approaching traffic (within 500 feet), or when you are following another vehicle (within 300 feet). regardless the time of day or night.

There are actually several sections of road in California that are designated as "Daylight Headlight" zones, where it is recommended to turn your headlights on even during the day in order to increase visibility.

I have been driving in California for almost 10 years, and have never driven with my headlights off (at least, in my own car which turns them on automatically when the car is turned on). Leaving your headlights on helps with visibility and means you won't forget to turn them on at dusk when they are legally required.

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    In support of this the California Driver Handbook lists several situations in which headlight use is either required or recommended, and none in which low beam headlights are prohibited. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 24 '17 at 17:52
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    Note that daytime running lights may not be considered the same thing as headlights, depending on the CHP officer's mood-de-jour, and hence may not save you from a ticket in the rain or a headlights-on area, because they don't turn on the tail lights. Since perhaps 50% of the cars I noticed on the way home had DRLs these can't be illegal and any objection to daytime headlights would actually have to be about the tail lights. I know of none. – Dennis Oct 24 '17 at 20:23
  • I find it amusing that in "daylight safety areas" (or tunnels) when you leave the area, there is usually a sign reminding you to turn off your headlights. That seems unnecessary. Keeping them should naturally be safer, right? – Mark Lakata Oct 25 '17 at 18:59
  • The warning to turn them off is to avoid people forgetting they are on after they finish driving (in daylight!) and ending up with a flat battery. Far less relevant today as most cars will either them them off or at least give a warning when you do that. – Doc Oct 25 '17 at 23:54
9

I can't speak to California code, but I've driven my own Canadian car to California twice since daytime running lights became mandatory here (in 1989 and in 2015). Both times we spent a week or more in California; in 2015 we were about twelve days in the state (nine days in San Diego, three in the Twentynine Palms area). Nobody said a thing about my car having headlights on in the day.

On rural roads, particularly undivided highways, it's wise to have low beam headlights on, if your car lacks specific daytime running lights, because it's easier to see you at a distance.

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    Yeah, some manufacturers sell DRL cars in the US, for the sake of reducing the number of variants they have to produce. I've never heard any hint of it being a problem. – hobbs Oct 24 '17 at 18:23
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    Not sure how helpful this is. I'm sure you could have broken hundreds of minor regulations without anyone noticing. – pipe Oct 24 '17 at 18:36
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    @pipe My point is that if any Canadian driving a post-1985 car is driving with headlights on, I doubt any American doing so is breaking the law in so doing. – Jim MacKenzie Oct 24 '17 at 19:35
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    Boldface that last sentence and move it to the top of your answer. It should actually be law to drive with headlights on all the time, imo. Lots of people seem to think that lights are only there for you to see, but just as importantly they are there for you to be seen. Even in broad daylight, don't underestimate the power of having your lights on. – Octopus Oct 24 '17 at 21:18
  • @Octopus That's precisely why Canada made it law for the 1986 model year. It really does make a difference. – Jim MacKenzie Oct 25 '17 at 0:33
7

When entering a guarded military base gate you may be required to turn off your headlights at night, so as to not "blind" the guards.

I did not find a specific law or regulation, but it is often posted on signs and customary.

Gate etiquette

  • Are there any such guarded military base available for people to enter in California? – gmauch Oct 25 '17 at 14:40
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    Yes there are. Access for civilians are fairly restricted, but on occasion they are open to the public for air shows or open houses. Note that driving laws on bases are outside the perview of CA vehicle laws and are strictly enforced. – Scotty T Oct 25 '17 at 14:51
  • I don't know if CA has any human-manned tollbooths, but when MA had human-manned tollbooths (they got rid of them a couple years ago) they also requested you turn your lights off when approaching. CA has some national parks, maybe with a ranger-manned entry hut? – stannius Oct 25 '17 at 16:10

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