When to Use Parking Lights

Dark Night Car Lights
••• vrcraft/iStock/GettyImages

Drivers use most of the features on their car every time they drive the vehicle. No driver can go far without using the steering wheel, the gearshift or the pedals. But what about parking lights? Despite their name, it’s not necessary to use them when parking a car.

What Are Parking Lights?

Parking lights (sometimes referred to as parking lamps) are attached to the outside of the headlights at the front of a car. Some models have a similar set at the rear.

Decades ago, parking lights were known as sidelights, and they had a much more important role than they do today. Back then, they ran on an operating system separate from the car’s headlights. This meant the parking lights were available if the headlights failed. Parking lights were dim lights that didn’t use much battery, and it was possible to switch on the parking lights on only one side of the car.

Evolution of Parking Lights

In 1968, car manufacturers began to build parking lights on the same operating system as the headlights. This means they light up at the same time as the headlights. The precise location of parking lights varies by car. In most models, they are at the outer side of the headlights, but on some, they are on the inner side or below the headlamps.

The parking lights of some cars use the same bulbs as the blinkers that are sometimes used along with the headlights. In modern vehicles, it’s not possible to switch on parking lights on only one side.

Some car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, General Motors and Volvo, fit their cars with daytime running lights. These remain switched on as long as the car’s engine is running, making parking lights redundant.

Purpose of Parking Lights

Traditionally, parking lights were used to protect a vehicle. Drivers used them when they parked their cars at night on narrow, poorly lit roads. Having parking lights meant other drivers could see the car and help avoid accidents.

On a modern vehicle, parking lights car also help other drivers see the vehicle, but there is less need for them. First, many roads are wider and better lit, and most cars have emergency or hazard lights to alert other drivers if they are parked on a roadside. Additionally, headlights are brighter than they used to be, so they are better able to light up a car than parking lights.

Most modern cars have parking light switches at the side of the steering wheel alongside the switches for indicators, glaring headlights and fog lamps. Typically, turning the knob to the first setting switches on the parking lights, and the second setting turns on the car’s headlights, but it may vary by car.

Read More: Police Lights & Their Purposes

Parking Light Laws

Neither state law nor federal law requires vehicles to have parking lights. However, lots of new cars still have them to make them more visible from the side view. In the United States, parking lights are often amber or gold, which differentiates them from white headlights and red brake lights. In other countries, parking lights are bright white.

It’s always a good idea for a driver to familiarize herself with the light settings in the car she’s driving and to know state driving laws. Parking lights should be used only when required.

Driving With Parking Lights

In many states, parking lights shouldn't be used when driving if no other lights are on. For instance, the California Vehicle Code states that a car should not be driven with parking lamps on unless they are being used as turn signal lamps or the headlamps are also turned on.

Parking Lights in an Emergency

Parking lights can be extremely useful as backup lights in an emergency. For instance, if one of a car’s headlights burns out on a back road, the parking light will illuminate that side of the car. This will help other drivers realize the vehicle is a car and not a motorcycle and give it the space it needs on the road.

Related Articles