Are LED headlights legal?

Yes, LED headlights are legal. LED lighting is now standard in new cars, but LED headlights cannot be brighter than 3,000 lumens.

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Rachael Brennan

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

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We all want to have bright headlights while we drive at night, but anyone who has ever been blinded by the glare from another driver’s LED headlights in oncoming traffic knows how unpleasant it can be to see them on the road. And, while LED headlights are becoming the standard for newer cars, headlights that are too bright may not be street legal.

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Highway safety is important, both for you and the drivers around you. For people who are interested in purchasing aftermarket LED lights, there are laws regarding headlight brightness that can help you make the best choice (and don’t land you in any hot water with your car insurance company).

Key takeaways

  • LED headlights are not only legal, most new cars have them now. 

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has done the research and determined it is impossible to produce HID conversion kits that meet federal regulations.

  • Federal guidelines set standards for how bright headlights can be.

  • You should probably avoid installing headlights labeled “super bright” or with lumen or candela measurements beyond the legal 3,000 level.

What are the brightest headlights allowed by law?

Headlight laws about brightness, colors, and other issues are made on both state and federal levels. According to federal guidelines (specifically Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108), the brightest your headlights can be is 3,000 lumens, but this can be written a number of ways: 3,000K, 3,000LM, 3,000 candelas, etc. 

New cars should meet any federal requirements, so even if the LED headlights on your brand new SUV seem super bright, they’re probably within the legal limits. However if you’re installing aftermarket LED headlights, make sure they don’t exceed the standards for brightness.

According to Sergeant Evan Kaesmann with the Fairfield Police Department, LED headlights are not only legal, they are now the standard type of headlight in most new vehicles. 

Also, according to Kaesmann, each state has their own regulations separate from the federal guidelines. “When it comes to limitations and regulations on headlights, Connecticut has regulations on the number of headlights required, the height at which they are installed, and the color of the lights,” Kaesmann explains. 

“Certain colors (red, blue, and a few others) are reserved for specific vehicles, emergency vehicles typically. There are federal regulations on the brightness, both minimum and maximum power, but these are implemented for the manufacturers to adhere to, not law enforcement to necessarily enforce.”

No, blue and purple HID (high intensity discharge) or Xenon headlights usually aren’t legal. In fact, according to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it is impossible to produce HID conversion kits that meet the federal guidelines for headlight brightness. Also, most states have laws requiring headlights to emit a white light instead of a blue light.

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This gets a little bit complex, but a “lumen” is a measurement of brightness; more lumens means brighter light, fewer lumens means dimmer light. A candela, on the other hand, is a measurement of “luminous intensity.” 

While the two terms are different, they appear to be used somewhat interchangeably when talking about car headlights. The Code of Federal Regulations says that the luminous intensity of headlights must be between 500 and 3,000 candelas. 

What does all that scientific jargon mean? Drivers who want to install special headlights or taillights shouldn’t choose lights that measure more than 3,000 lumens. Most lights that meet legal requirements are labeled “DOT Approved” or “DOT Compliant”.

If you find products labeled “super bright” or with lumen or candela measurements beyond the legal 3,000 level, you should probably avoid purchasing those lights.

Can I install LED headlights in my car?

You can, but you’ll need to make sure they aren’t too bright for other drivers. There are some significant benefits to choosing LED bulbs — they last much longer than traditional bulbs and they use a lot less energy, so many drivers want to take advantage of those benefits.

Installing lights that go beyond the legal limit of brightness can cause problems. Not only are drivers with super bright lights breaking the law, but they are inconveniencing other drivers, potentially even blinding other drivers temporarily. 

Despite the problems associated with LED lights, you are unlikely to be ticketed for having lights that are too bright. However, as with any other aftermarket additions, big modifications to your car may need special modified car insurance in order to make sure they’re covered in a car accident. If your headlight upgrades are part of other changes to your vehicle, alert your car insurance company and see if you can add on extra protection for your mods.

—> Learn more about modified car insurance

Do LED headlights cause accidents?

Super bright LED headlights can be dangerous; they cause temporary vision issues for other drivers, which is a road safety problem. 

Halogen lights, which most drivers would consider the older, more traditional type of headlight, typically emit between 1,000 and 1,500 lumens. In comparison, newer LED bulbs emit between 3,000 and 4,000 lumens, which is significantly brighter and can cause problems for other drivers.

That being said, there aren’t a lot of hard numbers around accidents caused by LED lights with high lumen ratings. When asked about accidents caused by bright headlights, Kaesmann explained, “While I don’t have any hard numbers, I can say that we do not find that headlight brightness is a common contributing factor in collisions within town.  Speed tends to be our greatest contributing factor for motor vehicle collisions.”

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Frequently asked questions

Are 3000K headlights legal?

Headlights that register 3,000K or 3,000LM are the brightest headlights you can legally install in your car. Anything beyond that level is typically against the law and you run the risk of blinding another driver and causing an accident.

Are LED headlights DOT approved?

Most states don’t mind LED headlights as long as they meet their brightness requirements. Some headlights come with a label that says “DOT approved,” though this just means that they meet the requirements set by the Department of Transportation and not that they were actually inspected and approved by a specific government agency.

Are my LED headlights too bright?

If you are concerned about the brightness of your headlights, the odds are good they are too bright. If you have factory-installed headlights, you can check the manual that came with your car to determine exactly how bright they are and whether or not they meet legal requirements.

If you have aftermarket lights that were installed after you bought the car, you’ll need to check the packaging from the parts to determine their brightness.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Rachael Brennan

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Rachael Brennan is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. Her work has also been featured in MoneyGeek, Clearsurance, Adweek, Boston Globe, The Ladders, and AutoInsurance.com.

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