Driving with light bars on in general is illegal on the road in most states. Some don't specifically say it, but their vehicle lighting rules indirectly prohibit light bars. However, some states don't touch upon this part as much and may allow it if the bars aren't too dazzling to other drivers.
So, what is a light bar? It is a bar-shaped lamp with over 30 candlepower. For context, 30 candlepower equals 377 lumens. Because of their intense lights, they are perfect items to get a long-distance or wide view of the road. But before you go on the highway with light bars on, you better check some factors on your state laws to ensure you are not breaking any regulations.
Are Light Bars Street Legal?
Unfortunately, almost all states do not allow light bars on the road. It does not matter whether it is turned on or off. It is even required to have any off-roading light under black covers. So, even if you accidentally turn them on, they won't blind anyone.
There are various reasons why light bars can be illegalized like this. First, while their intense light may be suitable for off-roading, it is dangerous if it glares at other people. Even regular LED lights can blind people for some seconds.
So, if a set of 12 or higher LEDs happen to glare someone, it may cause way higher damage to the eyes. Not to mention, LED lights may actually cause irreversible damage to the eyes, as revealed by studies.
Secondly, light bars often don't comply with state laws. For example, many of them have way higher intensities than what is legal in some states. Moreover, they may also often be installed on illegal heights.
What Do the Different States Say About Light Bars on the Road?
The following are the states that directly or indirectly banned driving with a light bar on while on the road-
- Kentucky- Kentucky law expressly prohibited the usage of light bars on the road.
- New Carolina- The gov of New Carolina banned the usage of light bars on the street in 2017.
- Washington- Washington requires any vehicle lamp with over 350 candlepower 4,400 lumens to be aimed, so its lights do not reach the road level over 80 feet ahead of the vehicle. Most light bars have an intensity of over 4,400 lumens, and almost all of them have a way longer distance beam than 80 feet.
- New York- The limited vehicle lamp intensity in New York is only 35 candlepower. It is a bit higher than 400 lumens. Good luck finding any light bar with an intensity lower than that.
- California- You must conceal any form of off-roading light with transparent covers and turn them off while on the highway.
- Florida- It is only legal to use not more than four lights on the front of the vehicle. So, no other lights are permitted if you have two headlights and two fog lights. Not to mention, even those four lamps must be installed and operated according to different rules. Moreover, even if you use a light bar instead of fog lights, you must have a license plate or a temporary tag.
Aside from these, many other states also prohibit light bars indirectly. But I didn't go through all of them here. So, I advise going over your state rules to be on the safe side.
Legality Factors to Remember Before Buying a Light Bar
Suppose your state or country allows light bars. But still, the peace officers may give you tickets if they feel like your bars are being too glaring or breaking other laws. Hence, there are some factors you must keep in mind when using or buying a light bar to avoid illegality issues. Some of them are as below-
- No Red or Blue: Apparently, most states do not allow the usage of red or blue for any front lamps. So, ensure that your light bar doesn’t make any of those colors. Only white and amber are the safe colors and are approved by all.
- No Flashing or Throbbing: No state allows a flashing, throbbing, or rotating light as an auxiliary lamp. In Georgia, you need a flashing light permit, but only for particular usages. So, make sure that your light bars don’t flash or throb.
- Lumen Limit: Check if your state has any law on the intensity of vehicle lighting. If there are, remember them when buying a light bar. The same is true for beam angles. You must aim your light bar, so it doesn’t dazzle anyone on the road.
- Compromise for a Shorter One: While the longer light bars are usually better for off-roading, they are way too noticeable on the road. So, don’t go over 21” when buying light bars for on-road use.
- Auxiliary Lamp Limits: Almost all states limit how many auxiliary lamps you can use on a car. And it is almost always two at most, while some allow three. Since light bars are also auxiliary lights, you should only install them when they don’t break the limit. For example, if you already have two fog lights and the limit in your state is two auxiliary lights at most, you cannot install a light bar on the car.
Remember that these tips only apply if your state doesn’t prohibit light bars directly. If it doesn’t, ignore these factors, as you cannot use a light bar on the street anyway.
No matter which state you are in, you can use light bars for off-roading as none of them prohibits it. Light bars are actually meant and manufactured for off-roading. So, feel free to get LED bars of any size as you please for this reason.
Light bars are not street legal in most states. Their long-distance view makes them dangerous for other drivers and people. Yet, they are ideal items for off-roading. So, only get light bars for the highway if you are totally sure that your state allows it and doesn’t have any indirect restrictions on them.