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Driving Without Headlights

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who says “my friend was in a crash after dark, and the crash happened because the other driver didn’t have any headlights on, but the police report says my friend failed to yield the right-of-way. How can you yield the right-of-way to someone you can’t see?”

This is a great question. Over the years, we have had several cases involving this very issue of one of the drivers driving at night without headlights.

Many modern vehicles are equipped with sensor switches that automatically turn on the vehicle’s headlights when it gets dark. But this isn’t always the case. And even if there is an automatic switch, typically, users can disable that automatic switch.

However, in some older vehicles, there is no switch to automatically put on the headlights. In some production years, older cars and pickup trucks were sold with a controller that automatically put the headlights on and did not give drivers the option to turn them off.

One of the first things you need to do when investigating a case involving whether headlights were on or off is to examine the make and model and year of the car. Online, you can find out a lot about standard equipment. If you have the Vehicle Identification Number, you can go even further and determine what equipment was on the car when it was sold. That certainly doesn’t address aftermarket equipment, but it gives you a start.

Additionally, after a crash, you can sometimes have an expert examine the vehicle. Even when headlights are broken, it may be possible to determine if a headlight was on when the bulb was broken.

Experts can determine if the filament was hot when the glass was broken. Some experts claim they can even tell if someone tried to turn the lights on after the bulb was already broken.

But back to the caller’s question, how can you yield the right-of-way to somebody you can’t see?

Well, the answer is, of course, that you can’t. Almost every state has a law that says headlights must be turned on at dusk and can’t be turned off until dawn.

Suppose a police officer investigating a crash, cannot determine whether  headlights were on or off. In that case, the officer will note the dispute in the police report. The officer may even put down which car had the right of way. For example, the vehicle on a through highway operating without lights would have the right of way as to someone pulling out from a side street. It is the absence of headlights which under the law, negates that right of way.

We’ve seen people try to make a defense even when their headlights were confirmed to be off by eyewitnesses. They will claim the streetlights in the area were sufficient. They will then argue that their car was evident even with no headlights. — This defense doesn’t usually work with most juries.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”