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Which Vehicle Headlights Are Illegal In California?

December 19, 2022 Car Crash Injury Blog

Although there are many options when it comes to car customizations and upgrades, when it comes to headlights, there are California laws that must be followed. Headlights of any color other than white, or amber if it is a turn signal, are illegal. 

California Laws on Headlights

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California law prohibits the use of blue, green, red, or other colors of bulbs for headlights. The reason is that they typically do not emit enough light to be visible or assist a driver at night. While some high-intensity discharge (HID), LED, or Xenon headlights appear blue, they actually emit a very bright white light, which can appear blue in contrast to the yellowish tone of the headlights of older-model cars. Therefore, LED and HID lights are legal with a few stipulations: 

  • They are an OEM feature on a vehicle. In other words, they came standard with a vehicle and are not aftermarket parts. 
  • If they are an aftermarket upgrade, they must be white (between 5000k-6000k) and not too high or low to the ground. 

If you are concerned about aftermarket LED headlights passing inspection, there are headlights you can purchase that are already DOT-approved or ASE-certified. 

Height Requirement for Headlights in California

Headlights must be between 22 to 54 inches from the ground. Therefore, even if your headlight bulbs are in compliance with the law, your suspension or another customization may make your headlights illegal. 

Broken Headlights

Driving with a broken headlight is against California law, as a vehicle can only be operated with two lighted headlamps. Having only one headlight diminishes a driver’s ability to see the road clearly and any obstacles. In addition, broken headlights can cause the lights to flash unexpectedly, which may temporarily blind other drivers or cause confusion.

Penalties for Violating California’s Headlight Statutes

The use of illegal headlights puts your safety at risk and others, but also, your driving record. Drivers who violate California Vehicle Code Section 24400 (failure to operate headlights as required) or most other headlight statutes face the following penalties:

  • A fine of at least $238
  • One point on the driver’s license record

Insurance premiums can also go up as a result of a violation.

How Headlight Violations Impact Accident Claims

After a car accident in California, the party responsible for causing the collision is liable for damages. However, each party involved is assigned a percentage of fault that reduces the amount of compensation they can recover. For example, if one driver had illegal headlights on their vehicle, which contributed to or caused the accident, their percentage of fault can increase. In turn, their compensation will be further reduced, and they may be liable for the other party’s injuries and damage to their vehicle. 

However, if you receive a citation for a headlight violation after a collision, it does not mean you are not entitled to compensation. Proving that the other driver is responsible may require a bit more investigative work and evidence, but a San Diego car accident lawyer is here to help you with your case.