Winter Driving: Use Headlights to Stay Safe on Dark, Wintry Roads


Winter means that many of us are traveling to work at dawn and coming home at dusk.

It’s important to use your headlights when driving around dawn or dusk or in other cases when visibility is poor — whatever the clock says. It makes a difference when it comes to car safety.

But I can see just fine…

Headlights not only help us see the road ahead, they make us more clearly visible to others on the road – drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. According to the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, studies have shown that driving with low beam headlights on during the daytime reduces the risk of head-on collisions by more than 20 percent. Tail lights make our vehicle more conspicuous to the drivers behind.

Vermont law requires we use headlights at all times from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. Also be sure to use them in conditions of:

  • Insufficient light
  • Adverse weather
  • When visibility is less than 500 feet

Winter Driving: See and Be Seen

Speaking of visibility, using your headlights also helps protect pedestrians and cyclists. How? They make your car more visible to them and give them more time to react. By the same token, pedestrians and cyclists should use lights and reflective clothing to be more easily seen by motorists.

Whether it’s day or night, lights are most effective when they are clean and clear of snow. Take a few extra moments to brush off the headlights and taillights. Don’t forget any side mounted turn signal lights and the “third brake light” that is usually found in the rear window.

Parking Lights are Not Enough

As a reminder, parking lights don’t take the place of headlights. Use them only when your vehicle is parked. If you can see and be seen, you and everyone will be safer on the road!

For more information on preventing injuries and fatalities for all road users—children, teens, older drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers with disabilities—see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Road Safety website. Be sure to also read our tips on how to keep kids in car seats safe in winter. 

A few other pointers

  • Some states, such as New York, also require use of headlights when windshield wipers are operating to clear rain, snow, sleet or fog. “Daytime lights” do not qualify as headlights.
  • Use low beams when driving in fog, rain, or snow (high beams cause light reflection and glare, making it harder to see).
  • Dim lights when approaching another vehicle, in either direction, to avoid blinding that driver.
  • Lower the light level for your dashboard and look away from oncoming lights to help you see well.
  • If your vehicle is equipped with Daytime Running Lights, make sure you understand whether this includes taillights or just headlights. It’s important to be seen from the back as well as the front, so you may need to turn on your lights to activate all of them.

Learn about more Safety Programs at the University of Vermont Medical Center. 

Maureen Johnson is the Child Passenger Safety Specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center.

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