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Wiki gives us the following explanation of the use of high beams in a car:

Main-beam (also called high, driving, or full beam) headlamps provide an intense, centre-weighted distribution of light with no particular control of glare. Therefore, they are only suitable for use when alone on the road, as the glare they produce will dazzle other drivers.

But what if you drive at night on a fully separated highway, such as the Autobahn? Are you allowed to turn on the high beams? I assume the middle barrier will prevent other drivers from getting blinded, but perhaps it would also be annoying to the drivers in the front?

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    "Can you", as the title asks, is a technical question that depends on your particular vehicle, although I would hazard a guess that most vehicles have the capability to turn the high beam on while driving on a highway. "Are you allowed to", as the body asks, is a legal question that as such inherently depends on the location, and sometimes on other conditions as well. Are you specifically asking about the German Autobahn; or are you asking about Germany in general; or are you asking about highways in general? The implications on answers would appear to be significant.
    – user
    Jun 10, 2017 at 15:07
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    Many highways I've driven on have a barrier that blocks oncoming headlights for automobiles, but not for trucks, whose drivers sit much higher. If you can see the top of the oncoming vehicle, you should not use high beams.
    – phoog
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:26
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    As a driver who frequently drives at night, I find it extremely annoying that somebody behind me would turn on high beam on a well-lit highway in a city. Usually I'd change lanes ASAP, or just let that person pass. There are also drivers who would revenge by high-beaming the car in front of them.
    – kevin
    Jun 10, 2017 at 18:42
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    "Legal" and "dick move" are two different things. Jun 11, 2017 at 12:37
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    Europe is not a country.
    – fkraiem
    Jun 11, 2017 at 15:27

3 Answers 3

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Definitely do not use your high beams if there is a car in front of you. It will distract them or send a message of intimidation.

As for the cars coming towards you, this depends on the distance between the two sets of lanes, and the height of the barrier. As a simple rule of thumb, if you can see the headlights on the oncoming cars, they can see yours. Don't use your high beams. If you can't see their headlights, go ahead and turn your brights on. (Trucks may be able to see and suffer glare from your headlights even in situations where cars cannot; if you can see the windshields of trucks, or if trucks are flashing their headlights at you, stop using your high beams.)

I drive on empty country roads, divided and not, and have done so for 40 years. These are my rules and I have never had a driver "flash" at me to lower my lights unless I have absent-mindedly forgotten to lower them (that is, never when I thought it would be ok to have them on) and neither have I had a "wow, almost didn't see that" moment from not having high beams on. So these rules work for me.

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    I have not driven on the Autobahn, or gone 150 k (140 in daylight by accident on the 401 though) - my guess is some combination of streetlights and a belief that wildlife, pedestrians, and other unlit obstacles will not be "allowed" onto the highway. If there is a car in front of you, stay far enough back you could handle a sudden stop by them, and let them worry about there being something on the roadway. Jun 10, 2017 at 12:55
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    It's quite possible for truck drivers (and drivers of some buses, especially in North America) to be able to see your headlights over the top of a barrier that blocks their headlights from you, since they sit much farther above their headlights than car drivers sits above theirs. If you can see the marker lights at the top of a truck's cab or of a bus, you should use low beams.
    – phoog
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:29
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    @JonathanReez Where do you find a piece of Autobahn that has so little traffic in your own direction to allow main-beam? IIRC, I have the "opportunity" to use main-beam about once or twice per year, and even then interrupted every couple of seconds ... Jun 10, 2017 at 16:46
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    @JonathanReez The basic rule is that the max speed in Germany is also limited by the responsible driver: The driver has to adopt the speed to the visual conditions. gesetze-im-internet.de/stvo_2013/__3.html Jun 10, 2017 at 18:49
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    @RichardHardy, west of the Mississippi, there are a few stretches of official 85 mph, and many stretches of 80 mph where the effective speed limit is around 85.
    – Mark
    Jun 10, 2017 at 19:48
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Because you specifically mentioned the Autobahn, I explain the situation in Germany.

The relevant passage is § 17 der Straßenverkehrsordnung über Beleuchtung, Absatz (2):

Auf Straßen mit durchgehender, ausreichender Beleuchtung darf auch nicht mit Fernlicht gefahren werden. (On roads with continous and sufficient illumation high beams must not be used).

The Bußgeldkatalog mentions the fines for this offense: From 10€ to 35€ (117130 to 117132) depending if nothing happened, you endanger other people or caused an accident.

The current ruling is that in fact fully separated autobahns permit the use of high beams on unilluminated parts if the conditions suggest it: Ist der Mittelstreifen auf der Autobahn ausreichend lichtdicht und werden andere Verkehrsteilnehmer nicht geblendet, darf mit Fernlicht auf Autobahnen gefahren werden.(In case that the road center is sufficient opaque and other persons are not blinded, high beams may be used on autobahns).. This means night or other low-light conditions (thunderstorm). In all cases you still should immediately turn high beam off if someone is ahead of you or oncoming traffic is able to see your lights.

If you use high beams if you are alone on an unilluminated autobahn under low-light conditions you should be fine. For fog and strong rain (sight under 50m) always use fog-light and don't forget to switch it off after leaving the fog bank.

A sincere warning: Do not use high beams near deer crossings.

enter image description here
Public domain: Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, 2016-12-15

If you are using high beams, wild animals will stop and stare hypnotically into your light and given the high speeds cause severe accidents. There are always some warnings in German travel radio if deer has been sighted on the autobahn.

ADDITION: Makyen commented correctly that game could be caught in low beams. But this happens more on country roads (Landstraße) because they are difficult to observe: curves, the wood is very near the road and you are slower. On autobahns however, the situation is different and high beams are more dangerous: Autobahns are straight or only slightly curved, they are broad (at least 2 lanes), there is always a big margin between wood and road and you are moving with speeds of 130 kph (80 mph, 36 m/s). Game could not effectively "hypnotized" in low beams because those have a range of approx. 50 m and this means collision will be almost inevitable. It is also rare because game can hear cars at such speeds and they will either retreat hastily or even if they run directly into your vehicle, chances are good that they do not match exactly the speed to get into the front, so a glancing blow is much more likely. High beams on the other hand will catch game outside hearing range and "freeze" them directly ahead of you. In this case lowering the beams besides braking and honking is the correct reaction, so lowering the beams beforehand is a good strategy.

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    Animals will tend to "stop and stare hypnotically into your light" with both using high beams and low beams. With high beams, it just happens from greater distances and over a wider area, as high beams project farther from the vehicle in most directions.
    – Makyen
    Jun 11, 2017 at 3:55
  • "In all cases you still should immediately turn high beam off if someone is ahead of you or oncoming traffic is able to see your lights" that's good advice but is it in the law?
    – Fattie
    Jun 11, 2017 at 14:09
  • may not or must not? Jun 11, 2017 at 14:18
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    @Fattie: Yes, it is in the very next sentence: "Es ist rechtzeitig abzublenden, wenn ein Fahrzeug entgegenkommt oder mit geringem Abstand vorausfährt oder wenn es sonst die Sicherheit des Verkehrs auf oder neben der Straße erfordert." You should lower your beam, if a vehicle approaches you or is driving ahead of you with small distance or if the safety of the traffic requires it". Passages in the Bußgeldkatalog are 117118-117120 with 20-35€ fines. Jun 11, 2017 at 14:19
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    Useful answer, but I disagree with the wild animal discussion. Increased ability to spot deer is one of the main reasons I want high beams on. I think you're much more likely to prevent an accident by seeing a deer near the road and slowing down, than cause an accident by "freezing" the animal.
    – user35890
    Jun 12, 2017 at 10:33
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I live in Denmark, and yes, it's legal to use high beams on the freeway

There was recently a radio show that discussed the use of high beams on Danish freeways, here's a (translated) quote from the interviewed police officer:

Yes, it's legal to use high beams on the freeway, and it's encouraged to do so. As long as your own side of the road is clear (ie. nobody in front of you), you are perfectly allowed to use high beams.

If there's oncoming traffic, you don't strictly have to turn down your lights. The risk of blinding others is outweighed by the need of proper vision at freeway speeds (110-130 km/h in Denmark), and the light is usually blocked by bushes or road guards

Of course it does come with usage of common sense, and it is the judgement of the driver himself that determines whether or not high beams are required.

The legal stance of this varies from country to country... in some places it's illegal (mainly due to deer, elk orother wildlife that get"tranced" by the lights)

I (and many other Europeans) never drive with high beams on the freeway. Often the nights are not that dark (especially in summer or moonlit nights), so you can still see quite a distance ahead, provided your night vision is ok.

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  • Welcome to Travel.stackexchange. Do you have a source/reference for "The risk of blinding others is outweighed by the need of proper vision at freeway speeds (110-130 km/h in Denmark), and the light is usually blocked by bushes or road guards"? I can't imagine this to be true. Safety should always be more important than driving fast. (I'm not saying that using high beams on freeways with oncoming traffic is forbidden but that I highly doubt the legitimacy of this reasoning.) Jun 12, 2017 at 20:46
  • I only had the audio of the radio show, this was relayed by a police officer invited to the show.
    – Tylon Foxx
    Dec 1, 2017 at 9:59

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