Not everyone has heard of the practice of using covers for headlights and brake lights, but that's not to say they aren't popular. Covering these lights can help protect them from getting scratched and scraped, but using blackout covers or translucent covers is also trendy with the hot-car crowd. Some state laws are explicit in forbidding blackout covers for headlights and brake lights, but the Indiana Code is not one of them.
What Are Car Headlight Covers?
Car headlight and brake light covers are considered a requirement by auto enthusiasts. They are quick to explain how rough today's roads are on today's headlights and brake lights. While the entire vehicle is damaged by sand and other abrasive particles being thrown against it, the headlamps and brake lights take the biggest hit. The abrasive substances encountered in daily driving dull and pit the lenses, reducing the amount of light that gets out. If, in addition, salt and/or sand are placed on the roads in winter, the damage occurs faster. Even too much sun can damage lights.
But haven't headlights evolved over time to be tough enough to meet these challenges? The simple answer is no. That's why the auto enthusiast considers acquiring covers to protect their front and back lights.
Types of Vehicle Headlight Covers
This may explain why motorists buy clear headlight protectors for their rides, but what about the other products out there? It's possible to buy fully tinted headlight and taillight cover pieces, as well as stylish covers that make the lights look like projector beams. While the soft urethane peel-and-stick clear covers let 100 percent of the light through, other styles limit that light.
Some of the products available include smoked or tinted hard covers and tinted headlight covers with a simulated carbon fiber look. Or there are the covers that block out unnecessary portions of the headlight lens, leaving only openings for the headlight beams to project their light. The idea is to accentuate the underlying projector beam lights within the headlamp assembly, but this is not for safety. This is a matter of style.
Likewise, the striped and filtered variations available for rear lights and brake lights have nothing to do with safety. They are simply eye-catching, making the vehicle stand out in a crowd.
Laws About Vehicle Light Covers
The problem with headlight and brake light covers is that they diminish the amount of light emitted and the distance from where it can be seen, making driving at night dangerous. That is why the general rule across most states is that headlight covers are acceptable during the day but not at night.
In addition, many states regulate the color of light that can be emitted from the front of a vehicle and how far that light is required to project. Tinted headlight covers violate the white light standard, and covers that limit projection of light may also break the law. Blackout covers are almost universally disallowed across the country for night driving.
Indiana Headlight Laws
Unlike some of its sister states, Indiana does not explicitly prohibit the use of blackouts or tinted covers for headlights and brake lights on motor vehicles. It does regulate this practice, however, with state requirements for the visibility of headlights and brake lights. This limits the level of tinting that light covers can have.
Under the Indiana Code, all motor vehicles other than motorcycles must have no less than two headlights, one headlight on either side of the front of the vehicle that emit white or amber light. Motorcycles need have only one headlight, but may have no more than two. Every vehicle must have an upper beam visible at a distance of at least 350 feet and a lower beam visible at a distance of at least 100 feet in all conditions. If a headlight meets these requirements with a headlight cover on, they are permissible on Indiana roads.
Indiana law also mandates that vehicles on a highway between sunset to sunrise must have their headlights on. This is also true at other hours of the day when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, the driver cannot clearly see persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead.
Indiana Laws on Rear Taillights
Indiana law does not specifically address the legality of rear light covers in and of themselves. However, as with headlight covers, the law limits their use by mandating the projection of light from taillights. The law requires that any motor vehicle or trailer drawn at the end of a train of vehicles be equipped with at least two taillamps (lights mounted on the rear of the vehicle) that emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear. These taillamps must be located at a height of at least 20 inches, but not more than 72 inches.
In Indiana, a lamp must also light up the rear license plate with a white light. That light must make the license plate readable from a distance of 50 feet to the rear. These rear lights – the taillamps and the rear license plate light – must be wired so as to be lighted whenever the head lights are lighted. Any taillight cover that changes the amount of projection to under 100 feet or causes the lights to violate any other regulations would be illegal in Indiana.
Indiana Laws on Brake Lights
Brake lights fall into the same situation as head and taillights as far as regulation in Indiana. Covers are not specifically addressed, neither approved nor prohibited. But the law sets out other regulations that preclude most covers.
That is, the Indiana state codes for motor vehicle safety require that a motor vehicle be equipped with "stop lamps" on the rear of the vehicle. These must be red lights. No other color is permitted. The light must be activated when the driver steps on the vehicle brake. It must be visible from a distance of at least 100 feet in normal daytime light. Any brake cover that changed the color of the light or the amount of projection to under 100 feet would be illegal.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.