When to drive on high beam vs low beam on roads?

Doesn’t it get irritating when your eyes suddenly get flooded with a flash of light when you are driving at night time? We humans are not nocturnal creatures, and driving during the dark brings its own set of challenges. Dealing with the wrongly selected light beam is one of those challenges because driving with headlights at a high beam all the time contributes to road accidents.  We cannot blame the driver alone as in our country, we barely have a proper driver training infrastructure, and the traffic rules are not implemented that strictly. Most of us are even unaware that we can select the beams on the headlight of a car and continue to drive like that. Here are some tips to understand the whole concept and when to select low beam or high beam during driving.

“High beams on the road” by aagay is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Why are two different light beam settings present?

The headlight of your vehicle is an important safety feature, and it is very vital to be able to drive during low light or complete dark setup. The selection between two light beams, i.e, low beam and high beam, is provided so that you can maintain a complete focus of the light depending on the road conditions. The high beam is designed to maximize the viewing field, whereas the low beam can only provide a light spread of up to 200 feet. The high beam distributes the light in a more centralized manner, allowing you to see a long stretch of the road. By selecting the low beam, the headlight projects the light beam in a dipped fashion or a lateral and/or downward fashion, hence earning the nickname ‘dipper’. Modern cars have improved the headlight design, and now the difference between the two beams is even more.

When to select low beam or high beam while driving?

As discussed above, the basic functionality of the headlight of your vehicle is to maximize the viewing capacity of the driver during dark or low lighting conditions. The default low beam setting is enough for your mundane city limit driving. The high beam only comes into the equation when the lighting conditions are bad, or you are driving at a high speed on the highway. High-beam headlights shine at an angle to illuminate the road 350 to 400 feet ahead, and this is critical when you are covering almost 100 feet per second, giving you plenty of time to react. Also, contrary to popular belief, you should not use a high beam during rain or fog as the water molecules in these weather conditions will only reflect the light. While on the highway, you should use the high beam very carefully if you are traveling on a single-lane highway. In city conditions, where the light conditions are far better, you should avoid using a high beam.

Traffic fines associated with the wrong beam selection

According to the Motor Vehicle Act of India, you can be fined up to Rs 1500 for driving with a high beam if you are putting others’ lives at risk. We don’t realize that by selecting high beams all the time, we are increasing the chances of being involved in a hit-and-run case and putting the life of pedestrians at grave risk. Also, it becomes very uncomfortable to drive around at night with all those high beam flashes blaring staring into your eyes. After some point in time, it becomes tiring to drive. There is a great need for educating the motorist in this regard and steps like, what Ludhiana police did by stopping the violators and making them understand the risks involved politely, are greatly needed. We should just not drive around the high beams and must take care that we have selected the right light beam setting according to the traffic and weather conditions.

Modern light beam technology

The good news is that the auto manufacturers have already started to work against this big problem and have come up with great technology. Like the MULTIBEAM LED headlamps in Mercedes-Benz cars, which have  84 individually controlled high-performance LEDs, which precisely control the distribution of exceptionally bright light,  without dazzling other road users. The other big car giants like BMW and Audi also have similar technology in their arsenal. The problem is that these technologies are only available in higher-end cars, and it might take up to 10 years for this technology to filter down to the mass market car like the Maruti Suzuki Baleno. So till that happens, we have to make the road users more aware and educated about when to select low beam and high beam


Now, let us face it, we Indians are hardly good when it comes to proper driving training and following road rules. The menace of the use of high beams during nighttime is well spread on our road and is contributing daily to unfortunate incidents that could have been avoided. Some do it due to lack of complete knowledge, and some do it just because of pure ego. But we must break the cycle of events and make our road users more aware of the use of proper light settings.