6 Must-Know Tips for Highbeam Use

Do you know when to use your highbeams? This should clear up some concerns!

Concerning High Beams:

High beams are not just a way to see better during night drives; they are a communication tool between yourself and oncoming drivers. They can (and should) also be used during the day.

After driving for a decade (three years as a professional driver) I have noticed, utilized, and am now compiling a list of guidelines for the proper use of high beams. Some are obvious, some maybe not so much.

Start using your high beams as soon as you can tell the difference between them and your lows.

I’m often driving at dusk and I start using my high beams once they start lighting up road signs. If they cause signs to be more visible then they may catch and reflect the eyes of an animal before you would see it with your lows.  My saying is, “If they light up signs, they’ll light up eyes”.

Turn off your high beams when faced with an oncoming vehicle.

Duh! Right? Right! Now in B.C. we have a lot of curvy roads. So for me, most of the time, it’s easy to know exactly when to turn off the highs: The moment you see someone else’s headlights. However on long stretches it can be a little different because you can see headlights coming from so far off. In those situations I have a couple ways to determine when to switch to the lows:

  • Once the oncoming headlights are uncomfortable, turn your own off. This is kind of like you asking the oncoming car to lower their own lights.
  • Once the oncoming headlights switch to lows (this is the other driving indicating that your headlights are uncomfortable to them).
  • Once you have determined you have seen far enough ahead to be comfortable driving with less light until you pass the oncoming vehicle.
  • Once the oncoming vehicle flashes their high beams at you (because you either didn’t see them turn theirs down or because you forgot yours were still on).
  • Special Note for oncoming tractor-trailers (aka semis): Often traffic is appearing over a hill and you will notice that you can see the trailer lights, then roof lights, before the headlights. In the interest of courtesy you should turn off your high beams when you first see the trailer lights or the roof lights because if you wait until their headlights show up, you will already be highbeaming them. These drivers are on the highway for long hours and they already have to deal with more than their fair share of idiots so be a dear and show them some respect (after all, they are much bigger than you).
If someone flashes you once they are probably asking you to turn your highs down

(because you forgot or just haven’t yet).

  • If you’re already using your lows then you can either ignore the flash (although be warned that some drivers will turn their highs on right before you pass each other so if you choose to ignore the flash, keep your eyes averted from their lights as they pass (the white line on your right is a good place to look until you’re past)).
  • Or you can flash them back once to say, “those are my lows, THESE are my highs!”.
If you see an animal on or very near the road, flash your high beams twice

at oncoming traffic for the next minutes or so.

  • As a general rule you should flash twice if the animal is only near the road.
  • If there’s an animal IN the road flash more!
  • You can flash for more than just animals; also warn drivers of things in the road that shouldn’t be run over. Such as boxes, wood, large rocks, etc. Flash more than twice for these kinds of things.
  • When using your high beams as a warning of “danger ahead” to other drivers, you can use them in the daylight; they are visible.
  • Some drivers will turn on their hazards (or four-way flashers) briefly to warn of hazards. Always watch oncoming traffic for signals.
  • Some drivers will use their turn signal to indicate a hazard, which is handy because it tells what side of the road your should be watching but you also have to guess about whether or not they are signaling a hazard, or because they are turning.
When coming up behind a vehicle, you’ll just have to use your best judgement about when to use your lows.

It’s not as dangerous if you high beam them but for the sake of courtesy your should switch to lows once you feel safe enough to do so. You can look ahead into their high beam light to look for hazards if you’re close enough. If they tap their brakes they may be asking you to lower your highs or they may be warning you of a hazard.

You should never high beam another vehicle out of spite or anger.

You are essentially blinding them and therefore risking their life. Not to mention they may respond in kind and blind you back.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply brett September 30, 2016 at 22:06

    hi jaclyn, thanks for the thoroghness of your high beaming primer, can i add one more use of high beam, i remember in the past using high beam to warn oncoming drivers of police speed traps in the area, nowadays i let the police do there job without my participation, the reason being that i may warn off somebody who poses a real threat to other motorists.

    • Reply Jaclyn September 30, 2016 at 23:23

      Haha yes, of course! Many people use a flash or two to warn of police ahead. I’m not sure how I missed that one. I also used to warn “fellow speeders” if I saw a cop but since I stopped speeding I just laugh when I see a speeder heading for a cop. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed by a Mario Andretti only to see him pulled over with flashing lights a couple minutes later.

  • Reply Dawn November 19, 2016 at 08:46

    This is great info and especially for those of who will be training a new driver in a few years.

  • Reply karlapitzen November 20, 2016 at 17:51

    Good idea about warning drivers about animals. The deer are everywhere in my area right now.

  • Reply Shell Maria November 20, 2016 at 21:47

    This is great info! I always get confused about my lights so this was helpful to me .

  • Reply Niki @ Toot's Mom is Tired February 9, 2017 at 10:30

    Truckers have a code too! If you’re on the interstate sometimes truckers will try to change lanes but it’s hard to see if there’s anyone there. So if you’re behind a truck in the lane they want to get in, and they’ve got enough space to get over, flash your brights to let them know they can. They will usually flash their taillights at you to thank you.

    • Reply Jaclyn February 9, 2017 at 15:42

      That’s great to know, thank you!

    Leave a Reply

    CommentLuv badge