When and How to Use High Beam Headlights

headlightsOur provincial driving guide, Learn to Drive Smart, says the following about using your high beam headlights: "Use the high beam setting only on unlit roads at night when there aren’t any vehicles approaching or in front of you." The companion Tuning Up For Drivers adds "Your high beams help you see further, but remember to dim them when another vehicle approaches (before the other driver’s high beams start to bother you)."

That's not a lot of information for anyone learning to drive or wanting to improve their driving skills to depend on for advice.

B.C. Law on Using High Beam Headlights

Multiple beam headlamps

4.06 (5) A person who drives or operates a motor vehicle must not illuminate the upper beam of a headlamp if another motor vehicle is within a distance of 150 m from that vehicle, unless the driver has overtaken and passed the other vehicle, so that the high intensity portion of the beam does not strike or reflect into the eye of the other driver.

(6) Whenever a motor vehicle is parked or standing on a highway, the upper beam of the motor vehicle headlamps must not be illuminated.

There are two duties imposed on a driver here:

  1. If you are approaching opposing traffic or catching up to a vehicle driving in the same direction that you are, dim your high beams when you are within 150 metres or about 500 feet of the other vehicle.
  2. If you are parked or standing (stopped but occupying your vehicle) you must have your headlights dimmed.

Absent from the law is any mention of day or night, so this means that the rule applies at all times.

The rule also prevents you from flashing your high beams at other drivers when overtaking or who fail to dim their own headlights when you are inside this distance limit.

We now know when not to use our high beams.

When to Use High Beam

High beam headlights are meant for use on unlit highways. For urban areas with street lighting, low speed streets and when rain, falling snow or fog causes problems with your ability to see ahead, use low beam.

When to Dim Your Headlights

Scott Marshall, training director for Young Drivers of Canada suggests that most of us dim our headlights too soon, often as soon as we see an oncoming vehicle. Your high beams have not reached the other driver yet so there is no hurry to switch to low beam. In fact this could actually be dangerous as you could be overdriving your low beams.

He suggests that the time to dim your lights is when you see the spray of your headlights meet the spray of the opposing vehicle's headlights.

Those Blinding Blue Headlights

In any discussion I have on headlights, the other person invariably raises the issue of being blinded by blue headlights. If you are the driver of a vehicle equipped with high intensity discharge headlights (HID) it is even more important for you to remember to always dim your headlights when required.


Listen to Scott speaking about driving at night:

I feel high beams are under utilized and that in narrow and poorly lit residential streets using high beams affords me better visibility and alerts potential pedestrians to my approach. I would dim them when I see pedestrians on the road or when a car approaches but most of the time the side streets are pretty empty. Passengers are often surprised that I use them but why not see better? Great for spotting debris or other road hazards too. 

Please advise, what can a homeowner do about neighbours who run their vehicles for 20 minutes more than once a day with headlights beaming directly into the windows of my house ? This is, for lack of a better word, awful.

There are 3 vehicles that are backed in to their driveway, facing my house.

These people are not approachable, or open to discussion.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.