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Headlights are a good idea

I saw several people on a recent evening driving in the country without using their headlights. At the time, it was approximately 5:30 p.m. and the sun was down, but still showed a glow in the sky. Fifteen minutes later it was full dark. At the time, most drivers on the road were using their headlights and this made it even more difficult to see the drivers who weren't. What are the laws regarding this, and at what point would an officer likely cite someone for not using their headlights? - C.E.R.

Thank you for the timely question. Recently, I was driving home from the new offices in White City and it was foggy, yet a number of vehicles were driving without headlights on, and I was telling myself I needed to write an article about headlights.

The law you're wondering about is found in the vehicle code under ORS 811.515, when lights must be displayed. It states lights must be used during times or conditions of limited visibility. "Limited visibility conditions" means any time from sunset to sunrise or any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles are not clearly discernible on a straight, level, unlighted highway at a distance of 1,000 feet ahead.

So, in your example, if it was after sunset, then those folks driving without headlights were candidates for a citation. In my case, other vehicles were not clearly discernible 1,000 feet ahead.

Remember, people or vehicles have to be clearly discernible, without headlights, when viewed on an unlit, straight and level road. If they aren't, then they too are also candidates for a citation.

How do you measure 1,000 feet ahead? Well, you could picture three football fields, including the end zones, laid out end to end and you'd be really close. Or, if you are traveling 50 mph, then you will travel 1,000 feet in about 13.5 seconds. So pick out a landmark as far as you can see ahead, like a telephone pole, and if you get to the landmark before you can count to 13 while doing 50 mph, then you probably have visibility of less than the required 1,000 feet. Other common speeds and associated times needed to travel 1,000 feet when using that method: 55 mph = 12 seconds, 45 mph = 15 seconds, 35 mph = 19 seconds.

If any of these are the case, then you need to have your headlights on. That also means headlights, not parking lights only, which are illegal when used as the only lights activated and the car is mobile, not parked. Violation for failing to use headlights when required is a Class B violation and you will be cited for a bail of $242.