A motor vehicle may be capable of operating without lights at night, but the driver would not get very far in Wisconsin. In order for a vehicle to be street-legal, it must be equipped with proper lights, and the driver must use them correctly. Anyone driving in Wisconsin should familiarize themselves with the state laws about vehicle lighting equipment and how the lights should be used. If the legal requirements are not met, Wisconsin law enforcement may issue a traffic citation.
Wisconsin Equipment of Vehicles
When anyone discusses vehicle lights, it's usually the vehicle's headlights, taillights and turn signals they are talking about. Wisconsin regulates all three types of car lights.
Every state, including Wisconsin, requires that a vehicle operated on public streets and highways has two headlights that meet the manufacturer's specifications for the year and model. They must be mounted symmetrically, with at least one on each side of the center of the front of the vehicle and between 24 and 54 inches from the ground. It is a violation of statute to try to use fog lights in the place of working headlamps. The law requires that a headlight lens be intact, not cracked or broken, and nothing can cover or obstruct them. The light emitted from the headlights can be amber or white; no other color light is permitted.
Two working taillights are also required unless the car was manufactured with only one taillight. They must be placed between 20 and 72 inches from the ground and must emit red light. Blue lights as well as flashing lights are illegal. Wisconsin vehicles must also have working turn signals on the front and the rear – directional signal lights that tell other drivers when the car is about to turn. All vehicles manufactured in 1969 or later must also have hazard warning lights.
Driving in Wisconsin
When must a driver turn on their lights in Wisconsin? It is illegal to drive a vehicle in the hours of darkness unless both headlights and taillights are turned on. The sole exception is if the vehicle is being towed and can be seen from 500 feet. Headlights must be turned on at least 30 minutes before sunset and can be turned off 30 minutes after dawn. It is perfectly fine to drive with headlights on during the day, as well as at night, but it is not a legal requirement.
The driver must also follow state rules about the use of headlight high beams. While these longer light beams help the driver to see farther down the road, they can also blind other drivers. State law requires that drivers dim their high beams when approaching vehicles are 500 feet away from them, and also when within 500 feet from another vehicle traveling in the same direction ahead of them. The high beams cannot be legally used in adverse weather conditions like fog, rain or snow.
Hazard lights indicate to other drivers that a vehicle is stopped on or beside the road.Under state law, a driver must illuminate their hazard lights whenever the vehicle is disabled on the side of the highway.
Other Vehicle Lights
If a Wisconsin vehicle has front clearance lamps, side marker lamps or reflectors, they must be mounted on the front of the vehicle or on the sides near the front. They must emit amber light. Rear clearance lamps, side marker lamps or reflectors must be mounted on the rear or on the sides near the rear of the vehicle. These must emit a red color.
Wisconsin specifically requires that vehicles operated on public roads and streets at night must be equipped with a light to illuminate the license plate. The lamp must emit white light. A maximum of two fog lights and two auxiliary spot lights are permitted per vehicle.
Neon Underglow Lighting Rules
What about neon underglow lights? The state codes do not contain any restrictions on aftermarket vehicle lighting. That means that, as long as the owner keeps state restrictions in mind, neon underglow is not illegal in Wisconsin. Remember: no blue or flashing lights are permitted.
Since all lights visible from the front of the car must be white or amber in Wisconsin and those visible from the back must be red, consider using red-colored underglow in the back, and white or amber on the front part of the car.
Wisconsin Laws About Emergency Lights
Wisconsin statutes set out which vehicles can use emergency lights (pulsating, rotating or flashing lights) and what color lights are allowed on different types of emergency vehicles. Emergency vehicles include any vehicle driven by law enforcement, firefighters or emergency medical services, including ambulances. The term encompasses volunteer firefighters, federal bomb squads, conservation vehicles, organ transport teams and local, state and county emergency vehicles. These emergency vehicles may use pulsating, rotating, oscillating or flashing equipment.
Only police vehicles can use blue and red emergency lights; they cannot be used by private vehicles or by any other type of emergency vehicle. Both ambulances and fire trucks can use red and white lights, but only when responding to a call. Tow trucks can use amber or amber and red emergency lights.
Tickets for Violations
A driver can get a traffic ticket in Wisconsin for not using their headlights at night, having a headlight out and violations of other Wisconsin vehicle lighting rules. Traffic ticket fines are not uniform throughout the state, but vary from court to court, especially between municipal and circuit courts.
That means that it is impossible to know what fine a driver may face for a vehicle light violation. An operator of a vehicle may pay more in one city than another for a violation like having a broken headlight. Anyone getting this type of citation will find the amount of the fine on the ticket itself. In addition to the violation amount, a driver may also be assessed hefty surcharges in Wisconsin for things like court support services ($68) and court costs ($25).
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.