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Can You Drive Using Only Your Parking Lights?

  • Driving Tips
  • Barrett Mohrmann
  • 6 minutes

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The front headlights are one of the most important parts of a car. Traveling at night without proper illumination is probably the closest thing to unintentional suicide. The Parking lights are equally important. Despite the name, they are not always required when parking a vehicle. But can you drive using only your parking lights?

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In most states, you cannot drive with only your parking lights on in place of headlights. It is against the law.  

Parking lights can be extremely useful when used as backup lights during an emergency. The parking light will illuminate on that side of the car if one of the headlights fails. This will help other drivers be aware of the presence of a vehicle and give it the space it needs on the road. 

What are parking lights? 

Park lights are often mounted on the outer edges of the front headlamps. The rear of some models features an identical set. 

Parking lights were once called sidelights and played a considerably larger role in vehicles than they do today. They used to function on their own system, independently of the car’s headlights. If the headlights went out, you could still see in the dark, thanks to the parking lights. The parking lights on the car were little, low-power bulbs that could be turned on from just one side. 

Is it okay to use your parking lights when driving at night? 

You must use the working main headlights at all times. Driving with just the parking lights on is illegal in most states. This is unacceptable and non-ethical behavior. For instance, Parking lights must be switched off while driving in the state of California unless they are being utilized as turn signal lamps or both headlights and parking lights are on. The parking lights can be used along with the main headlights. But you are not allowed to drive at night using just your parking lights. 

Are the parking lights always on? 

Most modern cars come with automatic daytime running parking lights. For cloudy days when your vehicle may be too murky to be seen from, say, 500 yards away, the running lights are on so that you can see it without having to turn on the headlights, as is the case in fog. 

Why should you have your parking lights on and headlights off when parked on the side of the road? 

This is so that passing motorists will be aware that your automobile is stationary, reducing the risk of injury to you or anyone else who may be getting in or out of the car. Do not leave an unoccupied car parked overnight. But if you pull over to the side for any reason—to quickly run into a friend’s house or get passengers into or out of the car—you should turn off your headlights and turn on your parking lights. 

This concerns both health and safety. If your headlights are on and another vehicle is approaching from the front, your headlights create a glare for the oncoming driver. That makes it more difficult for oncoming drivers to detect if someone is crossing the street to get in or out of the car, if the roadside door is open, etc. 

Why do cars have parking lights? 

Parking lights have traditionally served as a vehicle’s extra layer of security. They were used by drivers who parked their cars on dark, winding roads after dark. It was safer to park the vehicle with the parking lights on so that the other drivers can see it. 

Parking lights on a modern car do double duty, making it easier for other drivers to spot the car in the dark while yet being unnecessary. There has been a general improvement in the width and illumination of roadways. Most vehicles now come equipped with danger or emergency lights to warn oncoming traffic of their presence. In addition, modern headlights are much more powerful than their predecessors were, making them a more practical alternative to parking lights. 

Parking light switches, along with indicators, high beams, and fog lights, are typically located on the driver’s side of the steering wheel on newer vehicles. The parking lights are activated by moving the knob to the first setting. The headlights are activated by moving them to the second setting; however, this may vary from vehicle to vehicle.  

Are parking lights mandatory in cars? 

Parking lights are not required by either state or federal legislation. Newer vehicles often omit them, but many still include them to improve their visibility in the side mirror. In contrast to the white of the headlights and the red of the brake lights, the parking lights on American vehicles are typically amber or a similar gold color. White parking lights are the norm in other nations. Parking lights should be used only when required. 

Should we turn off the lights inside the car while driving? 

In the dark, our eyes naturally adjust. Pupils dilate to let in more light, and the chemical Rhodopsin (also known as “visual purple”) is synthesized to make the retina more sensitive to light. Due to this transition, we also move to a more sensitive monochromatic vision mode. 

 If you turn on the automobile’s bright (or even moderately bright) lights, the driver won’t be able to see as well at night, preventing them from safely operating the vehicle. The chemical Rhodopsin takes 30 minutes to build up to full night vision, but only a fraction of a second of strong light can “bleach” the chemical and erase the person’s night vision. 

 Again, a sudden flash of strong light can render you nearly blind for a couple of seconds because the pupil contracts around three times faster than it can open up again. This is also why you shouldn’t direct your high beams directly at incoming traffic. 

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