Low Beam vs. High Beam: When to Use These Headlights

Every feature in a motor vehicle has an ingrained purpose designed specifically to cater to the safety and convenience of its occupants. Headlights are no different.

These headlamps serve the purpose of seeing in front of you at night. They also feature two specific modes — low beam and high beam.

But what’s the difference? Are they different in functionality alone, or are there more specific differences we should consider?

Difference Between Low and High Beam Headlights

The main difference between low and high beam headlights is that a low beam is used for normal nighttime driving, where-as high beams are used for driving in rural areas or small roads that feature little to no light.

Low or dipped beam is the projection of light in a lateral and/or downward fashion. Its main purpose is to provide adequate lighting without reducing your visibility of oncoming traffic.

However, when it comes to high or full beam lights, the light distribution is more centralized, allowing you to see a longer stretch of the road. These lights are primarily used in poorly lit areas.


To ensure optimum effectiveness, both low and high beam lights have distinct functions based on the intensity and projection of light. The general rule is to engage low beams when the oncoming traffic is within a distance of 150 meters or around 500 ft.

People in well-lit city areas, where there is a healthy flow of traffic always use low beams. This prevents them from blinding oncoming drivers, ensuring a safer environment for everyone.

Contrary to popular belief, in extreme weather conditions like rain, fog or snowfall, one should switch to low beams. This is mainly because the water molecules reflect the light from high-beam headlights. That, in turn, would make it all the more difficult for drivers to have a clear view of the road. The water spots usually blur everything in front of you.

People tend to use high beams in rural areas or in the dark for better vision. Doing so will prevent you from blinding the driver in front of you due to the reflection in the rear-view mirror.

Advantages of these Modes

Depending on weather, brightness, and location, both modes have their advantages.

Low Beam

  • Fewer accidents. Using low beams can ensure greater safety for oncoming traffic and of the vehicle in front of you.
  • Ideal for extreme weather conditions. Be it rain, fog, or snow, you should use low beams in order to have better visibility of the road. The light particles won't bounce off of the cloud particles and blind the driver.
  • The civilized way to travel. The beam won't cause strain on the eyes of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

High Beam

  • Better visibility. Due to greater intensity in the projection of light, high beams are ideal in poorly lit areas or on deserted highways.
  • Can be used as a signaling device. We can flash our high beams to warn people of the vehicle’s presence or to signal the right of passage.
  • Curbing noise pollution. Flashing high beams at night, instead of using your horn, can reduce noise pollution.

Safety Measures

There are certain countries that have undertaken some additional measures to ensure greater safety of on-road drivers.

For instance, left-hand traffic countries have introduced low-beam headlights that dip to the left. In contrast, right-hand traffic countries have low-beam lights that dip to the right. That way, drivers who are driving in the opposite direction from you aren’t blinded by your lights.

Some countries, like Canada, have also made it mandatory for every vehicle to be equipped with Daytime Running Lights. DRLs play a huge role when it comes to increasing visibility during the day. With higher visibility, the chances of road accidents diminish significantly.

However, one should bear in mind that DRLs do not activate tail lights. It is advisable to switch on low beams in times of extreme weather when the road conditions and visibility are poor.


Since they were first introduced in the early 1900s, headlights have changed quite a bit. Initially, they only used the Bilux bulb. Now, we have a wide variety of headlights to choose from, ranging from LEDs and halogen bulbs to Xenon HIDs, each with varying intensity and range of light.

But as they say, with power comes responsibility. If you use high beams, you can blind other drivers. That’s not only dangerous but also frustrating when it happens. You should operate your headlights accordingly. You need to be mindful of other drivers and create a healthy and safe driving experience.

Final Thoughts

Once upon a time drivers were required to get out of their car to switch between low and high beam. Now, one can achieve the same with the turn of a knob, nestled comfortably inside the car.

The world has changed significantly, and you are now able to take advantage of the latest automotive innovations. Something small like automatic headlights that turn on the moment they sense it's dark outside serves as an additional safety feature in a vehicle.

Still, you should ensure the safety of your fellow travelers isn't compromised due to your laziness. On-road driving is a team sport and we should strive to be team players.


Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.
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