Lights vs. Driving Lights
May 6, 1997
For many years the Highway Patrol has given conflicting statements about the use of off
road lights as driving lights. In addition individual officers had the latitude to
administer the auxiliary light laws based on their own judgement/interpretation. But now
there is a court case that clarifies issues surrounding auxiliary lights.
After being cited by a CHP officer for not having "off road light" covers, I
pleaded not guilty in the Lake Tahoe Municipal Court. I testified that my lights were
actually "auxiliary driving lights" (in accordance with section #24402 of the
California Vehicle Code). Initially I lost the case, but won on appeal. Since the original
ticket was only $86 I kept my costs down by writing the appeal and representing myself.
During the process I learned several facts that would help anyone who installs
auxiliary lights on their vehicle. But first let me say that if your lights are mounted
above 42" they are considered "off road" lights and must be covered in the
State of California.
Copy of Courts Decision
Copy of a letter from DOT
A California Superior Court
Clarifies The Use of Auxiliary Lights For Off Highway Enthusiasts
In California off road lights must be covered while driving on a highway, as
defined in section #24411 of the California Vehicle Code. The California Vehicle Code also
defines auxiliary driving lights under section #24402 as not needing covers. Each
statute carefully describes the requirements for each type of light. So whats the
The confusion arose when the California Highway Patrol began defining "Off Road
Light" as any auxiliary light without SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) approval.
Since this "approval" requirement is not in the law, it was never administered
fairly by the California Highway Patrol. Conflicting statements from the Highway Patrol
confused the public particularly if you were an off highway enthusiast. For example, have
you ever heard of a Highway Officer stopping a sports car to check for SAE approval on
their uncovered auxiliary lights?
Recently the El Dorado County Superior Court issued a decision that clarifies
California State Law regarding the use of Auxiliary Driving Lights. A three Judge panel
over-turned a lower courts decision in which a Highway Patrol Officer had cited an
off highway enthusiast for not having his two auxiliary driving lights covered. The
Officer testified that if the auxiliary lights were not marked SAE Approved then they were
"off road lights" and must be covered on the highway. Unable to convince the
Municipal Court in South Lake Tahoe, California to interpret the law (as it was written)
or obtain a logical explanation, the driver appealed to Superior Court. Representing
himself, the off highway enthusiast successfully presented his case and the higher court
over-turned the lower courts decision.
In its ruling the Superior Court stated, "The uncontradicted evidence in this case
demonstrates that appellants [the drivers] lights fall within the definition
of "driving lights" in Vehicle Code 24402. That section does not require driving
lights to be covered. The administrative regulations pertaining to driving lights do not
refer to any SAE requirements. While authority to regulate driving lights is vested in the
CHP, there is no evidence that CHP has promulgated such a regulation and if so, what that
In this case the driver had installed two auxiliary lights on the bumper of his 4x4
vehicle in accordance with the California Vehicle Code section pertaining to Auxiliary
Driving and Passing Lights (#24402). His auxiliary lights were 38" above the ground:
well within the 16-42" limit. Section #24402 also states that auxiliary driving lamps
are designed for supplementing the upper beam from headlamps and may not be lighted with
the lower beam. To insure compliance he wired the auxiliary lights into the dimmer switch
thereby limiting their use to only high beam operation. The auxiliary driving lamps were
equipped with 110 watt bulbs, which is above the legal limit for primary lamps, but these
are auxiliary driving lamps--not primary lamps.
The Superior Courts Ruling is binding in all of the Municipal Courts within El
Dorado County and most likely it would be honored by Municipal Courts throughout the State
of California if the opinion was brought to the courts attention. Since this opinion
is not published in any legal publication/journal review the best way to notify the court,
if you are ticketed, is to bring a certified copy of the Appellate Courts Decision
to your hearing. To receive a certified copy send $??? in a self-addressed,
stamped envelope to El Dorado Superior Court, 495 Main Street, Placerville, CA 95667
requesting Appellate Decision No. PV00-1706, The People of the State of California vs.
Since the US Department of Transportation (DOT) does not have any regulations
prohibiting a vehicles owner from installing auxiliary driving lights, of any power,
nor do they have any regulations requiring auxiliary lights to be covered, it becomes
extremely important to read and understand your own states laws regarding "Off
Road" and "Auxiliary Driving" lights.
EL DORADO CO. SUPERIOR CT.
No . PV-001706
IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF EL DORADO
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Appellant was cited on December 14, 1995, by CHP Officer Lord for a
violation of Vehicle Code § 24411, which requires auxiliary lamps on an off-road vehicle
to be covered or hooded and turned off whenever he vehicle is driven upon a highway.
Specifically, the section states:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a vehicle may be equipped with
not more than eight lamps for use as headlamps while the vehicle is operated or driven off
the highway. The lamps shall be mounted at a height of not less than 16 inches from the
ground, or more than 12 inches above the top of the passenger compartment, at any place
between the front of the vehicle and a line lying on a point 40 inches to the rear of the
seat occupied by the driver, shall be wired independently of all other lighting circuits,
and, whenever the vehicle is operated or driven upon a highway, shall be covered or hooded
with an opaque hood or cover, and turned off.
Officer Lord testified that he looks at the auxiliary light to see if
there is an SAE stamp; if not, he considers it to be an auxiliary light which must be
covered pursuant to Vehicle Code § 24411.
Appellant contends that the two auxiliary lamps on his vehicle are
"driving lights" and conform to Vehicle Code § 24402 and are not "off-road
lights" regulated by Vehicle Code § 24411. Appellant submits Federal Motor Safety
regulations and Department of'. Transportation regulations that along with the provisions
of Vehicle Code § 24402 make no provision for the lights being covered or requiring SAE
Vehicle Code § 24402 provides, in relevant part:
Any motor vehicle may be equipped with not to exceed two auxiliary driving lamps mounted
on the front at a height of not less than 16 inches nor more than 42 inches. Driving lamps
are lamps designed for supplementing the upper beam from headlamps and may not be lighted
with the lower beam.
Driving, passing, and fog lights are all "auxiliary lighting
equipment" within the definition of Vehicle Code § 375(a); similarly, all three
types are considered auxiliary lights under the California regulations pertaining to motor
vehicles [13 Cal. Admin. C. § 710]. Auxiliary lamps must meet certain mechanical testing
requirements set forth in 13 Cal. Admin. C. § 711; there is not evidence in the record
that appellant's lights failed to meet any of these requirements. Each type of auxiliary
light must meet certain photometric test requirements; while passing lamps and fog lamps
must meet certain SAE requirements, driving lights must only meet requirements specified
in 13 Cal. Admin. C. § 712 (a) ; there are no SAE requirements, and there is no evidence
that appellant's lights failed to meet the requirements set forth in the Administrative
There is no federal regulation of driving, passing, or fog lights; the
California Highway Patrol is therefore authorized to establish requirements for such
lighting [13 Cal. Admin. C. §§ 622; 623(b)]. There is no evidence in the record of what,
if any, requirements CHP has established for the regulation of this equipment. There is no
way of ascertaining from the law and the record in this case whether Officer Lord's
determination is arbitrary and personal to him or whether it reflects some CHP standard.
The uncontradicted evidence in this case demonstrates that appellant's
lights fall within the definition of "driving lights" in Vehicle Code § 24402.
That section does not require driving lights to be covered. The administrative regulations
pertaining 'to driving lights do not refer to any SAE requirements. While the authority to
regulate driving lights is vested in the CHP, there is no evidence that CHP has
promulgated such a regulation and if so, what that regulation is.
Vehicle Code § 24402 was added to the Vehicle Code in 1959; Vehicle Code
§ 24411 was last amended in 1986. It is a principle of statutory construction that it is
assumed that the Legislature has existing laws in mind when it enacts a statute. "The
failure of the Legislature to change the law in a particular respect when the subject is
generally before it and changes in other respects are made is indicative of an intent to
leave the law as it stands in the aspects not amended" [Estate of McDill (1975) 14
Cal.3d 831, 838]. Further, when a statute is susceptible of two reasonable constructions,
it must construed "as favorably to the defendant as its language and the
circumstances of its application may reasonably permit" [Keller vs. Superior Court
(1970) 2 Cal.3d 619, 631].
The judgment of the trial court is reversed.
Dated: December 26, 1996
EDDIE T. KELLER
Judge of the Superior Court
TERRENCE m. FINNEY
Judge of the Superior Court
CHARLES E. GOFF
Superior Court Judge, Assigned
LETTER FROM DOT
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety
DEC 2 2 1995
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Mr. Richard L. Russell
12475 Central Avenue
Chino, CA 91710
Dear Mr. Russell:
This responds to your FAX of November 15, 1995, to Blane Lausis of this agency, asking
for an interpretation of Federal lighting regulations as they may affect your plans to
modify your 1956 Jeep. You wish to add two auxiliary lights to supplement your upper
beams, and you ask whether these lights are "required to be DOT app " The answer
is no; the DOT regulation on motor vehicle lighting (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard
No. 108 Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment does not prescribe
requirements for lamps intended to supplement the headlamps, and thus the lamps of which
you speak do not have to be certified as meeting Standard No. 108. As a matter of
information, your use of the words "DOT approved" reflect; a common
misconception. We have no authority to approve or disapprove lighting equipment. Under our
statute, a lighting (or vehicle) manufacturer is required to certify that its equipment
(or vehicle) meets the Standard No. 108 (if it is replacement equipment included in the
standard), and the use of the DOT symbol on the item is the most frequently used method of
certification. This means that the "DOT approved" headlamps on your 1956 Jeep
are replacement sealed beams with DOT markings on them. You ask whether there is any
limitation to bulb wattage for auxiliary lamps used to supplement the headlamps when used
on the upper beam. There is no wattage limitation; however, if auxiliary lamps were
installed by the dealer on a new vehicle before its first sale, we would regard the
vehicle manufacturer's certification as negated if the brightness and location of the
auxiliary lamps were such as to affect an oncoming driver's ability to perceive the front
Although your Jeep was manufactured long before the effective date of Standard No. 108
(January 1, l969), we ask you to consider this safety concern when adding auxiliary lamps.
We do not know the local laws on this subject, and recommend that you seek advice from the
Department of California Highway Patrol. If you have any further questions, Taylor
Vinson of this Office will answer them for you (phone 202-366-5263).
Samuel J. Dubbin
AUTO SAFETY HOTLINE
Wash. D.C. Area 366-0123