Vehicle lighting: how to install and use lights safely

Advice on installing and using lights on all types of motor vehicle.

Vehicle lighting and safety

Lighting that dazzles, distracts or confuses other drivers is dangerous.

Inadequate lighting can make it difficult for a driver to see ahead or be visible on the road at night. However, lights that are used the wrong way, are too bright or are distracting, are also a hazard.

It's important that you know how to maintain and use your vehicle's lights appropriately. It's also important that any additional lights that are fitted don't endanger other road users.

Get your lights right

Vehicle lighting needs to allow drivers to see the road ahead, and make them clearly visible to other road users without causing a hazard.

  • If a vehicle's lights are too bright or if there are too many lights shining at once, other road users can be blinded or prevented from seeing hazards on the road.

  • If a vehicle has too many lights close together, some lights may not be noticed – and these may have important safety functions (for example, indicator or brake lights).

  • Decorative ('cosmetic') lights or illuminated signs that are distracting (eg too bright) endanger other road users because they divert their attention from their driving.

For more information, read our Get your lights right booklet 

'Switch on' at the right times

Some lights come on automatically – eg brake lights. Other lights are switched on manually, and it's important that drivers use these appropriately.

Fog lamps should be used when visibility is severely reduced – eg by snow or thick fog. They give out a short, wide beam of light that shines underneath the fog, lighting up the foreground and helping the driver see the sides of the road better. Don't use fog lamps when the weather is clear, as you could dazzle other drivers.  
Rear fog lamps make the back of the vehicle more visible in fog. They are very bright and likely to dazzle drivers behind you, so they should also only be used in foggy conditions.  

Headlamps should be used on high beam when you're driving at night on the open road and there are no vehicles in front of you or coming towards you. 

Make sure you switch them to dipped beam as soon as you notice another vehicle coming towards you, or if you come up behind another vehicle, to avoid dazzling them. It's also recommended that you use your headlamps on dipped beam during the daytime when visibility is poor.  
Daytime running lamps are lights that are fitted to the front of a vehicle and are used to make it more conspicuous in daylight. Don't turn them on at night, as they can cause glare for other road users.  
Hazard lights should only be used to indicate a temporary hazard to traffic – eg, if your vehicle has broken down and you're waiting for assistance, or if your vehicle is being towed. Goods vehicles can use hazard lights when they're double-parked for trade purposes.  

 Inadequate or missing lights

Make sure your vehicle's lights are in good condition and are working properly. Inadequate lighting (eg because of blown light bulbs or broken lenses) makes it difficult for you to see ahead at night and also makes you less visible to other drivers.

Fitting additional lights to your vehicle

If you're fitting additional lights, it's your responsibility to ensure they comply with inspection requirements for the type of light you're fitting. (Check these in the Vehicle inspection requirements manual(external link).)

If you want to fit extra lights to your vehicle, you must:

  • fit the right type of light

  • fit the lights correctly

  • fit no more lights than the law allows.

Fit the right light

When you're buying vehicle lights, tell the retailer what they're for. The retailer can help you select the right light, to ensure you meet inspection requirements.

Some lights must meet approved standards (eg an additional pair of indicators, a set of fog lamps, a set of reversing lamps).

Fit the lights correctly

Follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when fitting additional lights. If you're fitting cosmetic lights, position and angle them so they don't dazzle, distract or confuse other road users.

Fit the right number of lights

While individual lights may not dazzle or distract other road users, you must use your judgement to ensure the cumulative effect of additional lights you fit to your vehicle isn't hazardous.

Buying a new or newly imported vehicle in New Zealand

All vehicles that are imported into New Zealand must meet prescribed lighting standards. These standards ensure they are fitted with the correct lights, and that the lights perform acceptably (eg brightness and colour).

If you're buying a vehicle that is new or newly imported into New Zealand, it will have already been checked to ensure it meets these standards. Any additional lights the vehicle has will also have been checked, to ensure they do not dazzle or distract other road users.

Buying a second-hand vehicle in New Zealand

If you're buying a second-hand vehicle in New Zealand, check to see whether it has had lights replaced or additional lights fitted.

  • Check whether pairs of lights look the same and shine at the same brightness when turned on.

  • Are there more than the usual number of a certain type of light?

If you are unsure, get help from a garage or warrant of fitness (WoF) inspector.

If you buy a vehicle with lights that don't meet approved standards, you may not be able to get a WoF for it until the lights have been removed, replaced or refitted.

Where you can find out more