How to Use High Beams Properly

Talk with your teen about the dangers of night driving.

November 30, 2018

For drivers, few things are more annoying than another vehicle coming toward you with its high beams on. But while many experienced drivers have learned how to handle this situation, it could put inexperienced teen drivers at risk.

These lights can be helpful when driving in the dark, but they can temporarily blind other drivers. And while night conditions are particularly dangerous for teens – 16 and 17 year old drivers are about three times as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash at night than during the day – high beams aren’t always the best option.

This is where parents can help. Talk with your teen about the dangers of night driving and make sure they get plenty of practice during daylight hours before getting behind the wheel at night. As a part of these lessons, educate your teen on how and when to use a vehicle’s high beams. Your state may have specific laws about when to use headlights and high beams, so check these over with your teen to be sure you both know the law. Here are some best practices for using and reacting to high beams to help keep your teen safe.

  1. Show your teen how to use their high beams
    New teen drivers lack the experience most parents have behind the wheel, so it’s important to always go over the basics with them before getting out on the road. Use the vehicle’s manual to help your teen locate the switch for the high beams and learn how to turn them on and off. Every vehicle is different, so this is always a good thing for your teen to check before driving in a different vehicle. Remember: it’s better to know how to use these lights and never use them than to need them but not know how to turn them on in the moment.
  2. When to use high beams
    Normal headlights should always be used at night and in certain conditions during the day, particularly in the rain or through work zones for added visibility. High beams, however, are best used at night to help illuminate wider and longer stretches of the road. When driving at night, show your teen how switching from just headlights to high beams can help them see further and give them a better view of potential hazards.
  3. When not to use high beams
    Just as important as knowing when to use high beams is knowing when NOT to use them. For starters, your teen should avoid using high beams in poor weather conditions, such as rain, fog and snow, as they can actually limit a driver’s visibility in these situations. In these cases, regular headlights and fog lights, if the vehicle is equipped with them, are a safer option. It’s also crucial for your teen to know when to turn off their high beams to help keep other drivers safe. If your teen is cresting a hill, making a turn, coming up on another vehicle in front of them or being approached by a vehicle from the other direction, it’s best to momentarily turn the high beams off so that other drivers are not blinded by them. Point out such situations when practicing with your teen so they can recognize the risks themselves.
  4. Reacting to high beams
    If a car is headed toward your teen with their high beams on, your teen may lose much of their visibility due to the bright lights. Many experienced drivers flash their own high beams at such drivers to indicate to them to switch to their normal headlights, but if the other driver doesn’t do so the safest thing for your teen to do is to slow down and use the right side of the road as a guide until the car passes. Teens should be able to see a painted line or the edge of the road even if their visibility is limited.
  5. Practice, practice, practice
    Just like other driving habits, the best way for your teen to learn how and when to use their vehicle’s different lights is to practice. Give them opportunities to learn in different scenarios and make sure they know that, if they can’t see, it is always okay to pull over on the side of the road. Just advise them to use their hazard lights so they’re visible to other drivers.

Check out our Pointers for Parents lesson on high beams for even more tips!

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