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Shining a Light on Headlight Requirements in Texas

Back to Volume 7, Number 2

The average car owner wants his or her vehicle to look its best, and maybe even show off a little of their own personality in what they drive. However, a driver's personality might not legally transfer into headlights. 

New trends in aftermarket enhancement headlights such as colored bulbs, blackout tints and LED halo lights are making an appearance on roadways, but these special lights may not be legal in Texas. Any headlight bulb of the vehicle must be white or shades of yellow and amber; this is not only a Texas standard, but a federal one (according to 49 Code of Federal Regulations Section 571.108).

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, any colored bulbs or headlamps must have the Department of Transportation or appropriate Society of Automotive Engineers stamp of compliance on them; there are currently no DOT-approved red or blue bulbs. Red and blue bulbs resemble the lights used by emergency and law enforcement vehicles, making them confusing or distracting for officers and other drivers.

With accent lights—such as the rings around headlamps created by "halo lights" or "angel eyes"—the rules on color and tone vary; the ring that these enhancements create can be off-colors, such as purple or green, but they still cannot be red or blue. Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Sgt. D.L. Wilson says the colored accent lights are a grey area for law enforcement, but under no circumstances should a headlamp be flashing or blinking. "There are currently no regulations on colored accent lights except for blue or red," Sergeant Wilson said. "But there should be no blinking forward lights, including white lights."

Sgt. Wilson also says that while certain bulbs and accent features are cause for Texas DPS citation, headlights alone are not probable cause for a DPS officer to pull a driver over. "With DPS, we can't stop you just for your lights, but we can cite you for bulbs once we pull you over and can check them."

However, the grounds for initial police stops for headlight colors do vary within the state of Texas. Bellmead Police Department's Officer Matthew Kennedy says the rules within city police departments may differ from Texas DPS officers. "We have probable cause to pull you over specifically for headlights deemed distracting," according to Kennedy. "We can stop you for any blinking lights, or any lights that are red or blue."

While department procedures concerning bulbs differ from city to city, it is universal that a driver can receive a fine for some kinds of after-market lighting. Sergeant Wilson says that the amount of the fine can vary depending on the county judge, but that no matter what, a driver with illegal lighting can look forward to a hefty cost. "A Class C violation, like one with headlamps, can go anywhere from a $50 to a $500 fine."

You can check whether your new headlights or enhancements are approved for the road; one good way to be certain is to ask your local car inspector. Alfa Romeo dealership car inspector Matthew Abel says that he looks for anything that would hinder visibility or cause confusion for other drivers. "Headlights that are over-tinted, like blacked-out tinting, or red and blue lights, will not pass inspection," he says.

Approved headlight units will have the physical stamp of approval from DOT or SAE transcribed on the inside of the unit, at the bottom. "As long as your headlight itself has the DOT certification on the inside, you should be in the clear," says Abel.

While there currently aren't many specifics in Texas law concerning colored bulbs and accent lights, Sgt. Wilson says the regulations are always subject to change. "There are not many regulations right now with off-colors, but that's not to say there won't be in the future," he emphasized.

If you're not sure about your community's laws concerning your new headlights or enhancements, be sure to ask your local law enforcement before you face a fine.

Back to Volume 7, Number 2

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Jake Smith
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