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Why is it legal in North Carolina to have headlights so bright they blind other drivers?

Ken Little

Q. When did it become legal to operate vehicles on state and federal highways that have headlights that can “knock down a bear” and “replicate the firepower” of a Sherman tank? Once, long ago, North Carolina had a system by which automobiles were safety checked (including the power and AIM of headlights) that required some level of sanity in the lumens even in cars that come from the factory with “enhanced” lighting accessories.

A. State law could be interpreted to mean that some headlights on vehicles these days are not legal.

According to N.C. Statute 20-131, titled “Requirements as to headlamps and auxiliary driving lamps”:

“The headlamps of motor vehicles shall be so constructed, arranged, and adjusted that (they) will at all times (and) under normal atmospheric conditions and on a level road, produce a driving light sufficient to render clearly discernible a person 200 feet ahead, but any person operating a motor vehicle upon the highways, when meeting another vehicle, shall so control the lights of the vehicle operated by him by shifting, depressing, deflecting, tilting, or dimming the headlight beams in such manner as shall not project a glaring or dazzling light to persons within a distance of 500 feet in front of such headlamp.”

Subsection (b) of the statute states that headlights “shall be deemed to comply with the foregoing provisions prohibiting glaring and dazzling lights if none of the main bright portion of the headlamp beams rises above a horizontal plane passing through the lamp centers parallel to the level road upon which the loaded vehicle stands, and in no case higher than 42 inches, 75 feet ahead of the vehicle.”

Subsection (d) states that “Whenever a motor vehicle meets another vehicle on any highway it shall be permissible to tilt the beams of the headlamps downward or to substitute therefore the light from an auxiliary driving lamp or pair of such lamps subject to the requirement that the tilted headlamps or auxiliary lamp or lamps shall give sufficient illumination under normal atmospheric conditions and on a level road to render clearly discernible a person 75 feet ahead, but shall not project a glaring or dazzling light to persons in front of the vehicle.”

The section of the N.C. Administrative Code pertaining to safety inspections states headlights are not approved if a set of headlight lenses “project a dazzling or glaring light when on low beam,” “produces other than a white or yellow light,” “(a) high beam-low beam dimmer switch does not operate properly” and “lights are improperly aimed.”

User-contributed question by:
Harry Parham

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