🚘 New Jersey has very specific laws about headlights

🚘 Some of them date back to the earliest days of motor car travel

🚘 But is it illegal to drive with your lights off?

While I was driving on Route 55 in South Jersey recently one evening, I noticed an SUV traveling in the lane next to me without its headlights on.  A short time later on Route 295, I noticed another vehicle that did not have its lights on.

Its unusual, and a bit unsettling, to see a vehicle driving at night without the headlight on.

Most newer vehicles have automatic lights that come on when it starts to get dark or when you put your windshield wipers on.

Many vehicles also have running lights that are on all the time.

Under state law, you can be ticketed for improper use of headlights, but there is a way out of the ticket

The second vehicle without its lights on passed by a police vehicle, and I was certain the vehicle would be pulled over and given a ticket.

The police cruiser never left its spot on the median.

Traffic was heavy, so it is possible the officer did not see the darkened vehicle.

As I continued my drive, I pondered whether it was even a violation of the law not to have your lights on.

What does New Jersey Law say about headlights?

Under Title 39, the section of New Jersey Law dealing with motor vehicles, there is a long list of requirements regarding vehicle illumination.


Every motor vehicle other than a motor cycle and other than a motor-drawn vehicle shall be equipped on the front with at least two headlamps, an equal number at each side, and with two turn signals, one on each side; and on the rear with two tail lamps, two or more stop lamps.

Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

Lights must be in working order

In 2010, New Jersey eliminated state safety inspections for passenger cars.

While the Motor Vehicle Commission will no longer check to see if your headlights are working and in proper alignment, you are still required to make sure everything is working properly.

On page 46 of the New Jersey driver’s handbook for 2023 it states:

Bright and dim lights must work and be properly aligned. A motorist can check them against a garage wall or on parked vehicles. Lights should be kept clean. If other motorists flash their lights while another motorist’s lights are on low beam, it could be that the lights are out of line.

Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

Usage of headlights in New Jersey

The law in New Jersey is also very specific about when you must use your headlights.

In New Jersey, headlights must be in use “from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise.”

State Law also requires that you have your headlights on anytime “you cannot see more than 500 feet in front of you” and when driving through fog, smoke, mist, or other weather conditions that reduce visibility.

You are also required to have your lights on anytime you have your windshield wipers on, even during the daytime.

The law also states that if you are using your high beams, they must be dimmed “when approaching other vehicles or following behind them.”

Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

Can I be given a ticket in New Jersey for not using my headlights?

The short answer is, yes, you can be ticketed.

The Municipal Violations Bureau Schedule published on the njcourts.gov website lists the improper use of headlights or failure to use headlights as ticketable offense.

The fine is listed as $55.  There are typically “court costs” added to any municipal violation.

There are no motor vehicle points associated with this ticket.

Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

There is an out to this violation

If you are pulled over for not having your lights on, police must give you a chance to fix it.

Under Title 39:3-61 (l):

Whenever a law enforcement officer detects a motor vehicle with a lamp not in working order, the driver may be permitted to park the vehicle temporarily at some safe place nearby and make the necessary repairs or replacement to restore the lamp to working order before moving the vehicle, in which event, there is no violation of this Title.

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