The headlights in your vehicle have two modes: low-beam and high-beam. The low-beam mode produces a less intense light that provides a nighttime down-the-road view of about 200 to 300 feet, or the approximate length of a football field. It may seem like a lot, but if you’re traveling at 60 mph, it takes just 3.4 seconds to cover that distance. Your high-beams, which are typically activated either by pushing or pulling the turn-signal stalk, are more powerful: They project light about 350 to 500 feet, depending on your lighting system’s specifications.
The Limits of High-Beams
While you see more and farther under most conditions in high-beam mode, your powerful blast of light actually reduces the visibility of oncoming traffic (sometimes for a significant interval of time). This situation is like staring into a flashlight in a dark room. You can see the blazing light but little to nothing else around it. Imagine traveling on a dark two-lane road at 50 mph with oncoming traffic. The closing speed between the vehicles is approximately 100 mph. And the closer the vehicles get to each other, the less the surrounding area and other traffic are visible.
When to Use High-Beams and When Not to
If you are on the highway or a lonely rural road with no traffic within 500 feet, go ahead and use your high-beams for better visibility. Their extra range makes higher-speed driving safer, because you can see farther ahead. There’s less chance of “overdriving your lights.” But also be aware that your brights can reduce the visibility of and annoy drivers in cars you are following, as your brights are reflected off their rearview mirrors and into their eyes. So as you catch up to cars ahead, dim your high-beams as a courtesy.
As to the effects of weather, keep in mind that in rain, fog, or snow, low-beamsoften provide better visibility. That’s because high-beams are aimed higher, plus their brighter light bounces off the fog, raindrops, or snowflakes suspended in the air as if they were millions of tiny mirrors. The light is reflected into your eyes rather than down the road, reducing your visibility. In the higher-density traffic and lower speeds of urban and suburban streets, the low-beam setting gets the job done and reduces the possibility of making other drivers and police uncomfortable.
Be smart and considerate. Low-Beams for lower speeds, suburban areas, and rain or fog. High-Beams for higher speeds and highways, but only when you can maintain at least 500 feet between your vehicle and the rest of us.
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