Driving At Night Without Headlights: Is This Illegal?

Driving At Night Without Headlights: Is This Illegal?

Driving at night is a lot more difficult than driving during the daytime. It's darker, and you may not be able to see the road ahead very well. Headlights make driving at night easier and safer, and nearly every driver uses them. But, is it illegal to drive at night without switching your headlights on - and can you drive without them?

Like most rules of the road, laws regarding headlights vary between regions and countries. Let's take a look at the laws by country.

The UK

In the United Kingdom, headlights must be used at night and any time your visibility is seriously reduced. This is defined by the law as 'visibility of 100 metres or less'. The only exception to this rule is on roads which are already adequately lit. This can be tricky to define, as many roads have some streetlights but are still not safe to drive on at night without headlights.

Generally, it's considered legal to drive at night without headlights on roads where the street lights are less than 200 yards (roughly 180 metres) apart, and the speed limit is under 48km/h (30mph). This doesn't mean that you can't have your headlight bulbs on, it's just not required. Keeping your headlight bulbs on at night is always a good idea, and it will rarely have any negative effects. 

Driving without your headlight bulbs on at night or when your visibility is seriously reduced can result in a ticket, which typically carries a £100 fine. This could rise to £1,000 if taken to court.


Laws in Australia are similar to those in the UK. Drivers must have their lights on at night or in 'hazardous conditions'. This means any time that the weather has caused reduced visibility, such as during rainy or cloudy days. Unlike in the UK, there are no exceptions to this rule in Australia.

Fines for driving without headlights at night or in hazardous conditions are fairly steep in Australia. You can face a fine of $233. You'll also get a point on your licence for this offence.

This law applies not only to motor vehicles in Australia, but also to bicycles. Cyclists riding without lights at night or in hazardous conditions can be ticketed, although the fine is only $55 and won't affect your driving licence.

The United States

The US is complicated when it comes to rules of the road. All 50 states make their own laws, so there are 50 different sets of rules regarding the use of headlights at night. Many of these are similar, however, and there are some general guidelines you can follow anywhere in the US that should keep you from being pulled over.

Like the UK and Australia, drivers in the US are required to turn on their headlight car bulbs when it's dark outside or when visibility is low for any reason, even during the day. Some states are more specific, requiring that headlights are turned on 30 minutes after sunset and turned off 30 minutes before sunrise. Lots of states are more specific regarding reduced visibility, though the exact definition ranges from less than 400 feet to less than 1000 feet.

In some states, cyclists must also have lights attached to their bike and follow the same rules as drivers of motor vehicles. There are no states in which an exception is made for well-lit roads, so drivers should make sure to to keep their lights on at all times when visibility is low.

Punishment for breaking this law also varies by state, but all fine drivers for failing to use their headlights, which range from $130 to $200. Some states also require those who violate this rule to attend driving classes, which can sometimes come at an additional cost.


Laws in Canada also vary between provinces, but are fairly similar throughout the country. All provinces require headlights at night, with some following the half-hour after sunset and before sunrise rule used in certain US states. All provinces also require headlight bulbs to be turned on when visibility is low, which is mostly defined as less than 150 metres.

Due to Canada's location, several northern provinces require headlights to remain on at all times. In the winter, it can be dark for most of the day in northern Canada, making it necessary to keep your headlight car bulbs on whenever you head out. 

Drivers who fail to follow Canada's headlight laws will face a fine. The amount varies depending on location, but is around $200.

Is it illegal?

So, is driving at night without headlights illegal? Yes. In nearly every situation, driving at night without them on is illegal. In most places, they are required not only at night but during any time of reduced visibility.

Even when it is legal to turn your headlights off, it's best to keep them on if you have any doubts about your ability to see or other cars' ability to see you. It will almost never make you unsafe, and in most situations, can help to increase safety.


Is it illegal to drive with one headlight?

Many people ask the question “is it illegal to drive with one headlight?”, assuming that one working headlight will be sufficient. However, having just one bulb in action can seriously impact your visibility, and it can put you and other road users at risk. While it may seem like common sense to ensure both headlight bulbs are in proper working order, is it illegal to drive with one headlight?

The UK

In the UK, it is illegal to drive with just one working headlight. The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 and the Highway Code both state the importance of having two working headlights especially when travelling at night or in poor weather conditions.

If you are caught by the police driving without a headlight, you will receive a £100 fine and three points on your licence. The fine could rise to £1,000 if brought to court.

Plus, if your car is over three years old, it will need to pass an MOT test each year before it can legally be driven on the roads. For a car to pass its MOT, all components must be in proper working order – including the headlights.


The legalities around car roadworthiness in Australia can sometimes feel a little confusing, with different territories enforcing different rules. However, driving without a headlight could well be classed as having a defective car – and it could lead to an insurance claim being refused.

If you’re pulled over for driving without a headlight in Australia, fines can vary between $110 - $330 depending on the state, with demerit points also available.

The United States

Driving with just one working headlight is illegal in the USA too. If you are caught doing so, it’s very likely you will be pulled over by the police and fined. Fines vary between states, but it is widely enforced.

If it's your first offence you may receive a warning and a notice to get it fixed. If you fail to get it fixed you may have to attend court and pay a much higher fee.


Canada’s province laws state that it is illegal to drive with just one functioning headlight. If caught, you may receive a warning or a fine, depending on the circumstance. As an example of how seriously this is taken, The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) can issue tickets as high as $325 per offence.

Even if it’s during the day - and seemingly light outside, it is illegal to drive with just one headlight because your vehicle needs to be prepared for any sudden changes in weather conditions.

So, if you’re wondering “can you drive with one headlight” the answer is no! Make sure you’re switched on no matter where you are travelling, and ensure you have a set of working lights before you hit the roads.


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