Most of us know when we're required to use headlights and wipers. But did you know it’s also smart to use them during low-light days (usually winter!); during fog, rain and snow; and on single lane highways? It’s true!

There are laws that specify when you must use your headlights (ORS 811.515) and what can happen if you don’t (ORS 811.520). (Fines range from $115 to $2,000.) And then there are times when it’s just smart to have your lights on. One tip to remember: if your windshield wipers are on, you should have your lights on.

Working headlights work

When you use your headlights, you improve the visibility of your vehicle exponentially. Tests conducted by the Society of Automotive Engineers determined that with headlights off, drivers can see oncoming cars when they are an average of 2,074 feet away. With headlights on, that distance more than doubles, to an average of 4,720 feet.

When you have your lights on during low-light situations, you will also be able to see other users of the system better and earlier, such as bicyclists and pedestrians. Note: be sure to clean your headlights after traveling in rain, snow or mud.

Another tip: be careful not to “overdrive your headlights.” Over-driving your headlights means driving too fast to be able to stop in the distance lit up by your headlights. You should be able to stop inside the illuminated area ahead of you (in other words, don’t get over-confident!). You'll also have more time to see and stop for bicyclists and pedestrians.

"See and Be Seen"

Speaking of visibility, it’s always smart to make sure as a pedestrian or bicyclist that you are as easy to see as possible. Yellow, lime green and other light colors are great for visibility, and bicyclists are required to have reflectors and lights in front and back. Reflective gear is valuable, too (vests, backpacks, shoes, etc.). Even if you are lit up, you’ll want to ride and walk defensively, whether you’re in a busy city, on a rural road or somewhere in between.

The value of windshield wipers

No one in Oregon – even in our drier parts – would deny the value of windshield wipers (western Oregon = rain, eastern Oregon = snow). But here’s a question for you: do you test your windshield wipers every time you get in your car? We guessed not. So you should – because who can predict the weather in Oregon? Imagine being out on the road and suddenly encountering a downpour or a blizzard… and your wipers don’t work! Bad time to find that out.

Instead, take a few minutes every time you’re about to drive: clean your headlights and test your wipers. Then use those lights in low-light conditions (fog, rain, snow), on single lane highways and anytime you have your wipers on. It will help you be safe out there.


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