In short, it depends on the laws of your state. Importantly, every state will have its own rules and regulations regarding the use of high beams, otherwise referred to as “brights.” Generally speaking, it is illegal for a motorist to flash or use their high-beam headlights within 500 feet of oncoming traffic. Further, there are state statutes that also make it illegal to utilize high beams when behind another vehicle.
Typically, a motorist will utilize their high beams when they are driving late at night, especially in areas where there are no streetlights. Motorists also utilize their high beams in inclement weather situations, such as heavy rain. This is because high beams allow a motorist to more safely and confidently navigate the road and monitor their surroundings.
High beams are installed on almost every vehicle with the purpose of ensuring motorist safety in dark or rural areas. In most cases, a vehicle’s high beams will be located near the center grill in the front of the vehicle. However, improper use of high beams, such as not turning them off when oncoming traffic is approaching, may result in civil penalties or accidents caused by the failure to dim the high beams.
It is also important to note that high beams are not illegal to properly use according to traffic laws or personal injury laws. This means that in proving fault in auto accidents, the person seeking to recover damages will typically have to prove negligence by the other party.
Who Is Liable for Auto Accidents Caused by Drivers Who Are Blinded by High Beams?
Liability in auto accidents caused by bright headlights is generally determined by the rules of negligence for that jurisdiction. A negligence personal injury claim is a legal claim in which a plaintiff (i.e., the party that alleges they have been injured) claims that the defendant (i.e., the party that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiff) injured the plaintiff by breaching a duty of care that the defendant owed to the plaintiff.
The duty of care that is owed to a plaintiff will depend largely on the specific circumstances of the case. In general, a defendant is under a legal duty to exercise a degree of care that an ordinary person would use under a particular set of facts. Whether or not a duty of care to a plaintiff exists will depend upon the foreseeability or predictability of harm that may result if the duty is not exercised.
In the case of motor vehicles, a driver of a motor vehicle owes other drivers the duty to follow all of the motor vehicle laws. Included in this are any laws regarding the usage or non-usage of high beams. As such, if a driver of a motor vehicle does not properly dim their brights to oncoming traffic in accordance with the traffic laws of their state, then they will likely be considered to have violated their duty.
When a defendant breaches their duty, and that breach of duty results in an injury that causes damages to another person or motorist, the defendant has committed personal injury through the act of negligence.
When determining whether a blinded driver was negligent, most courts hold that a motorist blinded by high-beam headlights must either stop or proceed at such a speed that they can maintain a proper lookout and stop in time to avoid any object ahead. This means that a driver who proceeds ahead when blinded by high beams and strikes an object may be found negligent.
As such, the driver that was blinded in some cases may be the one who is found to be liable for their own injuries and any injuries caused by proceeding while blinded. In most states, this would preclude the blinded driver from recovering damages associated with their vehicle incident.
Other courts apply the rule that the duty of a motorist who is blinded by high beams is determined by the standard of ordinary care exercised by a reasonably prudent person under the same or similar circumstances. In other words, this rule determines whether or not a blinded driver was negligent based on all the circumstances, such as:
- Whether or not the blinded motorist was closely followed by another car;
- The nature and visibility of any objects obstructing the motorist’s view of the road;
- The number of accidents due to high beam lights statistics for the area;
- The weather conditions for that day; and
- The suddenness of the blinding, such as another vehicle coming around a sharp corner, etc.
What Are Some Examples of Cases Where a Blinded Driver Was Held Negligent?
There are numerous examples of cases where a driver blinded by high beams was held negligent. For instance, in one case, a motorist who was speeding and lost control of their vehicle was determined to be negligent despite the fact that they were blinded by the high beams of an oncoming bus. They were negligent even though the bus driver failed to dim their high beams, and the motorist collided with the bus.
In making their finding of negligence, the court stated that a driver blinded by the lights of an approaching vehicle may not assume that the road ahead of them is clear. Further, a driver who is blinded by bright headlights is under a duty to lower their speed and have their car under control, as ordinary care and precautions require. In essence, the driver that was blinded failed to maintain a proper lookout and, as such, was negligent in their duties owed to other drivers.
However, in another case, a motorist who was blinded by the headlights of an oncoming truck and slowed their car in response to being blinded was not found to be negligent when they collided with the side of the truck. In making the determination of negligence, the court concluded that the truck not only blinded the other vehicle with its brights but was also over the centerline of the highway.
The court held that the motorist was not negligent. This is because they did not deviate from their proper section of the highway by turning too far to either side and, continuing within their own proper zone of travel, were justified in assuming that motorists coming from the opposite direction would remain on their proper side of the highway. In essence, the driver of the vehicle maintained a proper lookout in accordance with their situation.
There have also been multiple cases in which the driver of the vehicle that employed high beams was found to be negligent when it was demonstrated by the black box on their vehicle that records data that they were engaging in road rage by flashing their brights toward the other vehicle. In these cases, criminal charges may also be pursued in addition to a civil lawsuit for any injuries suffered by the individual harmed by the road rage.
Should I Consult An Attorney About Accidents Caused by Failure to Dim High Beams?
If you were involved in a car accident caused by failure to dim high beams and you suffered any personal injuries, you should contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws on high beam usage. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you in court as needed.