“Underglow” or “ground effects” lighting are neon or LED lights that attach to the underside of a vehicle. The primary purpose of neon underglow lights is to light up the ground under the car.
In Tennessee, it is legal to drive anywhere with underglow lights if the lights do not violate any state laws. Flashing lights are not allowed, with a few exceptions. Red and blue flashing lights are typically allowed only for emergency vehicles.
Tennessee Restrictions on Headlamps
No motor vehicle operated in Tennessee can be equipped with steady-burning lights, like headlights, that display to the front of the vehicle in colors other than white or amber, or in a combination of colors other than white and amber.
Exceptions to this rule can be found in Section 55-9-402 of Tennessee Code Annotated.
Emergency vehicles such as ambulances
Steady-burning red, white, blue or amber lights, or any combination of these
School buses, motor vehicles operated by a rural mail carrier, emergency vehicles used in firefighting, rescue vehicles, and privately owned vehicles of regular or volunteer firefighters
Steady-burning red lights
Vehicles of on-duty law enforcement officers
Steady-burning red, white and blue lights in combination
Personal vehicles operated by transportation network company drivers
One or more removable, illuminated, interior trade dress devices in any color other than red or blue, or in any combination of colors other than red or blue, issued by a transportation network company. The lights must assist passengers in identifying and communicating with transportation network company drivers.
General Rules for Headlights in the State of Tennessee
Generally, every motor vehicle other than a motorcycle, road roller (vehicle used to compact soil and gravel), road machinery, or farm tractor must have at least two, and not more than, four headlights. There must be at least one headlight on each side of the front of the motor vehicle.
A non-emergency vehicle may not have emergency flashing light systems within the headlight assembly. The exception to this rule is a school bus that may operate a flashlight lighting system within the headlight assembly when the vehicle’s visual stop signs are operated to receive or discharge school children.
Additional Vehicle Lighting Lamps
A motor vehicle may use additional road lighting lamps, or auxiliary road lighting lamps. Not more than two of these lamps may be lit at any time in addition to the two required headlights. Every motor vehicle must be equipped with two red taillamps and two red stoplights on the rear of the vehicle.
One taillamp and one stoplight must be on each side. No non-emergency vehicle may operate emergency flashing light systems in the taillight lamp or stoplight area. The stoplight may be incorporated with the taillamp. A violation of this set of state laws is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days' incarceration and a fine up to $50.
Additional Exceptions for Flashing Lights
Exceptions regarding rules for flashing lights that display to the front of the vehicle include:
- Funeral Processions. Motorcycle escorts of properly identified funeral processions may display green strobe flashing lights.
- Security Services. Vehicles owned by, or leased to, licensed public or private security services may display flashing lights in any color other than red, white or blue or in any combination of colors other than red, white and blue. This exception does not apply to personally owned vehicles of security guards. Flashing lights may be illuminated only when patrolling a shopping center or mall parking lot, while on other private premises, or if stopped in a hazardous location for the purposes of warning.
- Highway Vehicles. Highway maintenance, utility or recovery vehicles may display flashing amber or white lights or any combination of these.
- Organ Procurement. Passenger motor vehicles operated by an organ procurement organization or a person under an agreement with an organ procurement organization may display flashing amber or white lights, or flashing white and amber lights in combination when transporting an organ for human transplantation.
Additionally, a school bus, rural mail carrier, emergency vehicle used in firefighting, or a rescue vehicle may display flashing red or white lights or both of these in combination.
Law enforcement vehicles may display flashing red, white and blue lights in combination. Emergency vehicles may display flashing red, white, blue or amber lights or any combination of these.
Blue Flashing Emergency Lights
It is an offense for anyone to install, maintain or exhibit blue flashing emergency lights or red and blue flashing emergency lights in combination except for law enforcement officers, according to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 55-9-414.
A violation of this state law is a Class C misdemeanor. The prohibition does not apply to official motor vehicles of the sheriff’s department or municipal police department operated by reserve or auxiliary deputy officers. Such officers must be in uniform and carry appropriate identification issued by the sheriff or chief of police while operating vehicles with these lights.
The prohibition also does not apply to motor vehicles of specially commissioned officers employed by state universities and community colleges. Officers typically must be operating vehicles with such lights either within five miles of property owned or operated by the colleges or universities, or as directed by the chief police officer of the applicable county.
Penalties for Drag Racing
The use of flashing lights and colored lights on motor vehicles is often associated with drag racing. Drag racing can involve acts ranging from driving the vehicle at its maximum speed, racing one or more vehicles to compare their relative speeds within a certain distance or time limit, or using one or more vehicles to out gain, out distance or arrive at a given destination simultaneously with, or before, any other vehicle.
According to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 55-10-502, drag racing is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months' incarceration and a fine up to $500. A motor vehicle used to commit drag racing or flee after such is subject to seizure and forfeiture.
Penalties for Vehicular Assault
If drag racing results in the serious bodily injury of a participant, passenger, bystander or other person, the state will prosecute it as vehicular assault, a Class D felony. The act will not be classified as alcohol or drug-related unless the driver was intoxicated.
Vehicular assault is punishable by between two years and 12 years of incarceration and a fine up to $5,000. The offense is also penalized by a prohibition on driving within the state. The time period varies according to the number of offenses the individual has committed.
Fourth or subsequent offense
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.