Do Off-Road Lights Need to be Covered? The Law Explained


Do Off-Road Lights Need to be Covered? The Law Explained Do Off-Road Lights Need to be Covered?

When taking your vehicle off-road, going at any time other than daylight will often mean you need additional lighting that your headlights cannot provide, even on the high beam setting. Your vehicle is most often the only source of light, and you need to be able to see any potential hazards or trail obstacles that lay in your path.

However, adding extra lamps to your vehicle for off-road use does not mean you can use these lights on your local roadways as they can potentially blind oncoming drivers and cause accidents.

If you have installed off-road lights on your vehicle, you might be wondering, do off-road lights need to be covered?

Given that these additional lights are not legal for street use, your local laws may require that you cover them when you are driving your vehicle on public roadways. Some states require that any added lights be covered while others only specify that lights mounted above the headlight height be shielded. To ensure that you comply with local regulations, you must check the guidelines for your state. The use of these lights on the street is illegal in every state, but not every state requires that you cover all of your additional lights.

Failure to comply with your local safety regulations can result in hefty fines. There are currently no federal regulations in the United States that address whether off-road lamps must be covered or not.

At the end of this article is a list of links to local state guidelines regarding the use and covering of off-road lighting.

Local Laws

As these auxiliary lights are regulated at the state level, it would be impossible to cover every state’s laws and all their particulars. However, as a general guide, there are two common types of regulations.

The first regulation states that lights mounted within the approved height limits do not need to be covered. In general, these lights need to be installed within the headlight height of the vehicle. Sometimes minimum and maximum heights are given, other times just a maximum. 

Often but not always, mounting two auxiliary lights within this height on the front of the vehicle classes the lamp as an auxiliary high or low beam, with off-roading lights, they will fall within the high beam category. In these jurisdictions, having two auxiliary lights at this height means you do not have to cover them.

Being outside of the height limitations or having more than two extra lamps mounted at this height will usually require that you cover the additional lights.

Two important factors are mentioned there, the lamps must be mounted within the heights specified, and you cannot have more than two auxiliary lights for a total of four front-mounted lamps, including the mandated headlights.

The other common regulation regarding auxiliary lighting, including off-road lights, requires that any lamps that are not the mandated headlights, turn signals, brake lights, etc. must be covered when driving on public roadways. Regardless of height or number, any auxiliary lamps mounted on a vehicle must be covered, and failing to do so can result in fines.

If you would like more information regarding your specific state laws, check out the links at the end of the article.

Auxiliary Light Types

There are many types of auxiliary lighting that you can mount on your vehicle, and what you choose will, of course, depend on the intended use.

Some examples of these include spotlights, light bars, and other directional lamps. When you are considering purchasing these types of lights, you want to make sure that you can also purchase opaque coverings for lamps. We will discuss covers in more detail later in the article.

Another type of auxiliary light often used in off-roading is swivel-mounted spotlights. These are great tools when out on a dark trail because they can be positioned from inside the vehicle to search the area for potential hazards.

However, some states prohibit these types of lights being mounted on cars altogether. In some states, cover or no cover, having a swivel-mounted spotlight will get you into trouble.

Some states also have exceptions in place for aftermarket lighting if it is installed because you have a plow mounted on your vehicle. If the plow covers the manufacturer-installed lighting and you are mounting lights to account for this, you may be exempt from the auxiliary light regulations.

A quick note about fog lamps or fog lights, many cars come with fog lamps installed by the manufacturer, in most states these are considered an auxiliary lamp and count towards the four-light maximum for uncovered lights on roadways.

As always, you want to check with the local authorities regarding the rules surrounding mounted lights on plow vehicles.

Covers

So now you’ve got some auxiliary lights installed for off-roading, and you know that you need to cover them, but what does that mean exactly. What are the specifications to which the cover must comply?

There are two principal regulations you must adhere to:

1. The cover must be completely opaque

Opaque is just the opposite of transparent or translucent. Transparent objects let light pass with almost no obstruction allowing a lot of detail, including shape. Translucent objects allow light but no detailed shape information to pass through. Opaque objects allow no light through at all.

If you have lights that need to be covered, ensure that your covers are entirely opaque. They must allow no light from the lamp to escape through them.

2. The covers must conceal the entire lamp

They cannot just obstruct some of the light from the source or redirect it. The covers must completely jacket the light and prevent any and all light from escaping.

Covers can be useful for another reason; any lights that are uncovered during a vehicle inspection must be operational in most states. However, if you cover those lamps during an inspection, then they need not be checked.

So, having a cover means that when you are having your vehicle inspected, you can remove those lights form examination by making sure you cover them at the time of inspection.

Travel Between States

Remember that if you are taking your vehicle on a road trip to explore the great diversity of off-road driving that the United States has to offer, you may be subject to the laws of the state in which you are traveling, not just your local state regulations.

To ensure maximum compliance in all states, if you mount auxiliary lights, make sure you also have a cover for those lights and use those covers whenever you travel on public roadways. This is especially important if you will be crossing state lines.

Why Do I Have to Cover My Off-Road Lights?

The simple answer here is safety. These lights are bright and are often not installed to prevent the light they emit from entering the view of oncoming drivers.

Shining a bright light into the eyes of an oncoming driver is dangerous. It blinds them temporarily and also causes their pupils to dilate, which means their dark vision is reduced for some time after being exposed to the light of auxiliary lamps.

Using these lights on public roads and highways is dangerous and could cost lives.

Where Can You Use Off-Road Lights?

These lights can be used on private land like farms and larger properties, off-road trails, and service roads.

They cannot be used on city streets, highways, or public roads. There use is prohibited, even on backroads that are less traversed. If it is a public road, you may not use your auxiliary lights at any time.

Local Laws by State

This article is not intended as legal advice, and you should always consult a legal professional for proper legal advice.

If you are installing off-road lights, whether you need to cover these lights will be determined by your local state laws, to discover the regulations in your area, you can use the list below:

Jeremy Hoxie

Born and raised in beautiful Northern Michigan, I've have spent two decades enjoying everything the outdoors has to offer. When not working on RigForge, I spend my time Overlanding and tackling off-road trails while sharing my experiences and testing gear along the way. My current rig is a 2013 Jeep JKU Moab.

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