Off Road Lights vs. Driving Lights

Background Letter:

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.


Rick Russell;

News Release
Copy of Court’s 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 what’s the problem?

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 court’s 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 court’s decision.

In its ruling the Superior Court stated, "The uncontradicted evidence in this case demonstrates that appellant’s [the driver’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 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."

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 Court’s 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 court’s 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 Court’s 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. Richard Russell.

Since the US Department of Transportation (DOT) does not have any regulations prohibiting a vehicle’s 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 state’s laws regarding "Off Road" and "Auxiliary Driving" lights.





FILED 12-30-96
No . PV-001706



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 approval.

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 Code.

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


Judge of the Superior Court
Judge of the Superior Court
Superior Court Judge, Assigned




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
Suite 352
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 turn signals.

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
Chief Counsel


(800) 424-9393
Wash. D.C. Area 366-0123


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