Headlights are an absolute necessity for the safe operation of a motor vehicle in Michigan. Naturally, this means that the defective or improper use of headlights on public roadways can result in vehicular collisions, property damage and serious injuries. Proper headlight usage is governed not only by common sense but also by Michigan law. Here are some legal requirements related to vehicle headlights in Michigan.
MINIMUM HEADLIGHT REQUIREMENTS
“[A] motor vehicle shall be equipped with at least 2 head lamps with at least 1 head lamp on each side of the front of the motor vehicle…”. MCL 257.685(1). “A motorcycle or moped shall be equipped with at least 1 and not more than 2 head lamps.” MCL 257.685(2). To be in compliance with the law, a headlight must be a “lighted lamp exhibiting a white light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the front of the vehicle.” MCL 257.695(a).
Operating a vehicle with one burned-out headlight or no working headlights altogether can cause the police to execute a traffic stop and issue a defective or missing equipment citation. Defective vehicle equipment is a civil infraction punishable by a fine, but does not result in any points on your Michigan driving record and is not abstracted and reported to the Michigan Secretary of State.
In conditions of heavy fog or precipitation, it may be necessary for the driver to use additional composite or “high-beam” lighting to safely illuminate the way. Composite lighting must be used as follows:
- “There shall be an uppermost distribution of light, or composite beam, so aimed and of an intensity as to reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of at least 350 feet ahead for all conditions of loading.” MCL 257.699(b).
- “There shall be a lowermost distribution of light, or composite beam, so aimed and of sufficient intensity to reveal persons and vehicles at a distance of at least 100 feet ahead; and under any condition of loading none of the high intensity portion of the beam shall be directed to strike the eyes of an approaching driver.” MCL 257.699(c).
“Whenever the driver of a vehicle approaches an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet, such driver shall use a distribution of light or composite beam so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver.” MCL 257.700(b). The penalty for improper use of high-beam headlights is a civil infraction punishable by a fine. In addition, two points will be added to your Michigan driving record.
REQUIRED HEADLIGHT USAGE
Every vehicle on a highway in the State of Michigan must turn on its headlights, pursuant to MCL 257.684(a), as follows:
- Any time from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise
- Any other time when there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead
“When lighted lamps and illuminated devices are required by law no vehicle shall be operated upon any highway of this state with only the parking lights illuminated on the front of the vehicle.” MCL 257.684(a). The penalty for improper use of headlights is a civil infraction punishable by a fine. In addition, two points will be added to your Michigan driving record.
Don’t overlook the fact that a fairly minor offense could lead to other serious legal violations after a police search. In People v Tillman, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued June 22nd, 2017 (Docket No. 331440), the defendant’s vehicle was stopped because the defendant turned off the vehicle’s headlights on a side street while still moving on the roadway just moments before pulling over to the curb. This legal stop led to probable cause to search the vehicle that turned up narcotics within. Convicted of several drug felonies, the defendant appealed on the basis that the narcotics were seized in an illegal search. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the convictions because the police officer observed a valid traffic violation before pulling the vehicle over. If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe a driver has violated a traffic law, he or she may stop the vehicle. Whren v United States, 517 US 806, 813 (1996); People v Jones, 260 Mich App 424, 427-429 (2004). When police officers personally observe the traffic violation pursuant to Whren before executing a stop, the validity of that stop will generally be upheld. People v Kazmierczak, 461 Mich 411, 430 n8, 605 NW2d 667 (2000). The Court of Appeals concluded “that the police had the authority to make the stop for failure to have the headlights activated while defendant was driving on the roadway, even though it was for a very short distance.” So, even if the vehicle only moves a few inches in dark conditions on a public roadway, MCL 257.684(a) was violated.
A person accused of a headlight violation is not required to admit responsibility and can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. It is possible that the court can dismiss the violation if you can show that the police officer could not have observed the violation from his or her vantage point or that your vehicle was not actually moving. A lawyer can help you present an effective defense or may be able to negotiate a resolution with the prosecutor that can reduce the offense to a non-moving violation and avoid points on your Michigan driving record.
Every driver should be aware of Michigan’s headlight laws before a minor issue turns into an expensive ticket. If you or a loved one have any questions about Michigan traffic offenses or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.