Q&A - Driving at Night With Interior Lights On

Q&A ImageQUESTION: Is it legal to drive with the interior lights at night? We are trying to find ways of keeping our toddler happy (and quiet) by leaving the reading light on in the back seat.

No Specific Law

There is nothing specific in the Motor Vehicle Act or Regulations that prohibits this. However, in a round about way you could run into trouble if the light interferes with your ability to see, which a bright interior light could do at night.

General Laws That Might Apply

Requirements for moving vehicle

195 (1) A person must not cause a vehicle to move on a highway if

(b) the view of the driver to the front or sides of the vehicle is obstructed.

Careless driving prohibited

144 (1) A person must not drive a motor vehicle on a highway

(a) without due care and attention,

(b) without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, or

image of bright dash & interior lights

Setting Interior Lights

That said, it is best to keep your dash lights set so that there is just enough light to read them. Match the dash light level to that of the world outside.

Leave interior lights off. If there's lots of bright illumination inside your car, your pupils close down like they do on a sunny day, making it much more difficult to see the dark road ahead.

LCD Screens

Ditto if your vehicle has a large LCD display screen in the dash for GPS or vehicle controls. Set the illumination low to match your dash lighting.

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Interesting to read the possible "legal" thoughts on this.

Personally, I wouldn't do so other than for a passenger to quickly read a map or such and then only if I could still see reasonably well for the conditions.  My dash lights are always turned down to where I can just make out the speedometer and tachometer. 

But I wonder about people who have all their electronics lit like Mission Control .... 

I suppose that should depend on the actual situation, but like Hawk, I too dim everything possible, even cover the tiny LED lights on USB chargers plugged into sockets with some electrical tape.

Can't you rely on the more traditional methods of child entertainment like an iPad or an iPhone with-out resorting to exotic measures like your vehicle's interior lights? I mean I can stare at a light bulb for as long as an average person can, which is perhaps a second or two, but I can stare at my iPhone in complete delirium for hours!

I can't see why not. I lived on the road for a number of years, driving mostly at night. When it is pitch black outside, it is easy to develop tunnel vision and/or be hypnotized. As long as the light is coming in from behind and not too bright, as opposed to having light coming directly into your face (eg. watching tv in a dark room vs with a light on above or behind you).

The worst is the people with the super bright headlights coming towards you, especially on a dark night, no lighting. So, there is something to be said for ambient lighting, in my opinion.


After this thread was launched, things changed. A lot.

It's always been easy in most vehicles for the driver to reach out and adjust the ribbed knob for the dashlight brightness, to turn it down for when you're running highways at night with little ambient illumination. Maybe my 2012 Econoline is a dinosaur by modern standards, but I like that feature. This Econoline (just like my wife's 2008 Honda Accord) also has left/right 'cabin light' switches for the driver or front passenger to use if they need the localized illumination.

But these days, we also have extra devices in common use. So when I installed my dashcam, I ensured that it was attached to the windshield in the area where the wipers would keep it clean, but behind the mirror, so that I can't see it. Only makes sense. As a driver in the current age, I'm tremendously impressed with Google Maps (gotten me around many miles of places from Arizona to Ireland) so my cell phone holder is postioned a bit to the right on the dash, out of my normal vision area, but where I can see it if I want to look at it; typically, the 'voice' is all you need for guidance anyway.

(Here's an aside; did you know that new drivers in the UK will be required to follow directions from an electronic device such as Garmin or Google Maps, as part of their Road Test? Whereas all Class 7 drivers here are basically prohibited from using these devices!)

But fundamentally, the driver's cabin area does not benefit from general interior lighting, particularly with reflective plastic surfaces used on the dashboard. Next time you're out at night, note what the bus drivers do, in terms of keeping the passenger area reasonably bright, but their own work area as dim as possible (that's why the door/step light only turns on when the door is openened to load passengers).