Driving without Headlights in California
Vehicle Code 24250

Under California Vehicle Code 24250 VC, it's unlawful for motorists in California to drive "during darkness" without headlights.

There are five important points to know about this code section.

  • The specific facts of a case will determine whether a driver is driving "during darkness" and therefore needs to operate a vehicle with headlights. Some key factors include: time of day/night and visibility.
  • A driver that drives without headlights must pay a fine of $230.00.
  • A driver that violates Vehicle Code 24250 VC will also receive one point on his DMV driving record. A driver could potentially get a negligent operator license suspension if he receives a certain number of points in a specified amount of time (e.g., 4 points in 12 months, 6 points in 24 months or 8 points in 36 months).
  • There are legal defenses available to those drivers that violate Vehicle Code 24250 VC. It's in the driver's best interests, though, to consult with an attorney before raising one.
  • Drivers must not ignore California tickets for driving without headlights. If a driver ignores, or even forgets about, a traffic ticket in California, he may get charged with failure to appear, per California Vehicle Code 40508. Failure to appear, under California law, may be charged as a misdemeanor.

Our California personal injury attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

car driving at night with headlights off legal defense california
California Vehicle Code 24250 makes it unlawful in California for motorists to drive in the dark without headlights.

1. Vehicle Code 24250 VC – Driving in the dark without headlights is prohibited

California Vehicle Code 24250 makes it unlawful in California for motorists to drive in the dark without headlights.

The section states:

During darkness, a vehicle shall be equipped with lighted lighting equipment as required for the vehicle by this chapter.1

A question that sometimes arises when reading VC 24250 is: what does "during darkness" mean?

There is not one solid answer as to how much darkness is required before a driver must use his vehicle's headlights. The question for when exactly a driver must turn on his car's lights is a question of fact that will depend on all the circumstances in a case.2

California courts though, have established some general rules that help drivers follow the law. These are:

  1. Headlights are required during certain times of the day/night - "from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise."3
  2. Drivers must use headlights when the visibility is poor, and objects are not clearly seen.4
  3. There is no directive as to what distance must be lit up in front of a moving vehicle.5

Courts have also stated that Vehicle Code 24250 applies to drivers of motorcycles.6 Thus, motorcycle drivers, as well as drivers of vehicles, must use their headlights "during darkness."

Note also that failing to dim high beams is also an infraction under Vehicle Code 24409 VC.

2. The penalties for driving in the dark without headlights

A driver will receive two penalties for violating Vehicle Code 24250. These are:

  1. A fine; and,
  2. Points on the motorist's California State driving record.

2.1 Fine

A driver that drives without headlights will receive a ticket and he must pay a corresponding fine.

The fine for driving without headlights is approximately $230.00.7

2.2 Points on the motorist's DMV driving record

Motorists that drive in California and violate Vehicle Code 24250 VC will receive one point on their DMV driving record.8 This is not a good thing. Points put on a driver's record are ultimately reported to a driver's insurance carrier. The result is typically an increase in the motorist's insurance rates for several years.

A problem also occurs when points accumulate, or, when a driver receives multiple points on his driving record. If a driver in California accumulates a certain number of points within a 1-,2- or 3-year period, the DMV can declare that person a negligent driver. If this happens, the DMV can either suspend or revoke a motorist's driving privileges.

Please note, however, that either of these actions will require a California DMV hearing.

california driving without headlights traffic ticket legal defenses
A driver that receives a ticket for driving without headlights can always challenge the ticket.

3. Legal defenses if a driver violates VC 24250

A driver that receives a ticket for driving without headlights can always challenge the ticket. This means he can raise a legal defense to contest the ticket and say he wasn't guilty. However, if this is done, it's best for the motorist to gain the assistance of an attorney.

3.1 Common defenses for driving without headlights

There are two common defenses for violating Vehicle Code 24250. These are:

  1. The driver failed to use headlights because of an emergency.
  2. There was sufficient light so that headlights were not necessary.

This second defense relates back to the phrase "during darkness" that is found in the language of VC 24250. Drivers raising this defense would want to show that, given all the facts surrounding their case, there was sufficient light and visibility making headlights needless.

3.2 Contact a lawyer for help

Drivers can represent themselves when challenging California traffic tickets. However, it's in the driver's best interests to contact a California attorney for help in beating them.

There are three main reasons why lawyers are necessary when challenging a ticket. These include:

  1. Prosecutors typically offer better deals to defendants with lawyers.
  2. Defense attorneys know how to get charge reductions and

dismissals.

3. If a defendant has an attorney, the defendant does not have to go to court. The

defendant's lawyer can go on his behalf.

empty traffic school classroom california legal defense driving without headlights
Drivers that violate VC 24250 do not have to attend traffic school.

4. Violation of Vehicle Code 24250 VC and traffic school

Drivers that violate VC 24250 do not have to attend traffic school.

Drivers that drive without headlights, however, can voluntarily choose to do so. This is provided they meet three requirements. These are:

  1. The driver has a valid driver's license;
  2. The offense occurred while the driver was driving a noncommercial vehicle; and,
  3. The ticket is for an infraction that is a moving violation.

If a driver chooses to attend traffic school, he must still pay his fine.9 However, the driver generally should not get any points on his driving record if he completes the school.10

5. Driving without headlights and criminal charges

Criminal charges do not get filed if a person violates Vehicle Code 24250 VC. This is because it's not a crime if a motorist drives without headlights in California.

Violations of VC 24250 are infractions under California law. Violators are not subject to incarceration.

6. Ignoring a ticket for violating VC 24250

Drivers should not ignore – or even forget about – a ticket for driving without headlights. Two things happen if this occurs. These are:

  1. The driver violates a new law, California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, for the failure to appear in court on a traffic citation; and,
  2. The driver may receive penalties for violating VC 40508.

6.1 Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC

Upon receiving a traffic ticket in California, the offender is obligated to sign a written promise to appear in court. The driver promises to appear in court at a certain time and place (provided that he does not have an attorney – please see 3.2 above).

If the driver willfully fails to appear as promised, he violates Vehicle Code 40508 VC.11 The driver willfully fails to appear when he is willingly a no-show. It is not a defense if the driver did not intend to break the law.12

It also does not matter whether the offending driver is guilty or innocent of the underlying traffic citation.13 He violates Vehicle Code 40508 just by breaking a promise to:

  • Appear in court,
  • Appear to pay bail,
  • Pay bail in installments,
  • Pay a fine within the time authorized, or
  • Comply with any condition of the court.14

6.2 Penalties for violating VC 40508

Violation of Vehicle Code 40508 VC is a misdemeanor. The penalties are:

  • Up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.15

7. Effect of driving without headlights on a personal injury lawsuit?

A driver that violates VC 24250 may cause – or get involved in – an accident with another motorist. If the motorist later files a personal injury lawsuit against the driver, the driver may be found "negligent."

California law defines "negligence" as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others. Regarding auto accidents, negligent drivers are at fault for the accident and may have to pay for any damages caused.

Proving negligence in a personal injury case can sometimes be difficult. In California though, a driver is considered "negligent per se" if he violates a statute.

Negligence “per se” is a legal theory in which negligence is presumed based upon a defendant's violation of a statute or ordinance

This means a driver would be negligent per se if driving a vehicle in the dark without using headlights because he would be in violation of VC 24250.

Please note, however, that even if a driver is negligent per se, the driver may still be able to recover for any damages he incurs. This is because of California's comparative fault laws.

8. Laws related to Vehicle Code 24250 VC

There are three laws related to VC 24250. These include:

  1. California's laws on driving under the influence;
  2. Tailgating in California; and,
  3. California's law on driving on the wrong side of the road.

8.1 California's laws on driving under the influence

A driver in California may fail to use headlights when driving in the dark because he is driving under the influence. If so, the driver will be charged with both driving without headlights and driving under the influence (DUI).

DUI is against the law in California. It's against the law to:

  1. Drive under the influence of alcohol; and/or,
  2. Drive under the influence of drugs.

The penalties for a California DUI can grow quite severe. For this reason, motorists charged with a DUI must consult with a California DUI attorney.

Legal defenses to a California DUI charge do exist. However, a California DUI lawyer is necessary to raise the right one on a driver's behalf.

8.2 Tailgating (following too closely) in California

It's unlawful for drivers in California to tailgate, or follow too closely.

California Vehicle Code 21703 VC states:

The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicle and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the roadway.16

Thus, drivers are tailgating if they are following more closely than what is reasonable and prudent. The determination of what is, or is not, reasonable and prudent depends on all the circumstances of a given case.17 The conditions highlighted in VC 21703 (i.e., the speed of the vehicles, traffic, and conditions of the roadway) are but just a few circumstances courts consider.

California courts look to several other factors to help determine whether a driver is following too closely. These include the:

  • Alertness of the following driver
  • Braking efficiency of the vehicles
  • Distance between the vehicles
  • Suddenness of a vehicle stopping
  • Direction the lead car was traveling18

Drivers that tailgate on a California roadway will receive:

  1. A fine of $238; and,
  2. One point assessed to the driver's DMV driving record.19

8.3 California's law on driving on the wrong side of the road

It's against the law in California for drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.

California Vehicle Code Section 21651 describes how traffic should flow on California's divided public roads.20

According to Vehicle Code 21651 (b):

It is unlawful to drive any vehicle upon a highway, except to the right of an intermittent barrier or a dividing section which separates two or more opposing lanes of traffic.21

Given this language, all vehicles on California's highways must drive to the right of a barrier or dividing section. Or, they must drive on the right side of the road.

Driving to the left of a barrier is driving on the left side of the road; and, this is driving on the wrong side of the road.

Driving on the wrong side of the road is a "wobbler" under California law. A "wobbler" is a crime that can be punished as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Whether a violation of VC 21651 (b) results in a misdemeanor or felony depends on whether anyone was hurt or killed because of the violation.

A motorist guilty of driving on the wrong side of the road will also receive points on his driving record.

Were you accused of driving without headlights in California? Call us for help…

California driving without headlights defense attorneys' receptionists
Call us for help

If you or someone you know has been cited for violating VC 24250, or has been injured in an accident in California, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

Cited in Nevada? See our article on fighting Nevada tickets for failing to use headlights (NRS 484D.100).

Legal References

  1. California Vehicle Code 24250 VC.

  2. Donato v. Lopopolo (1937) 20 Cal. App. 2d 409.

  3. Fouch v. Werner (1929) 99 Cal. App. 557. See also Winn v. Long (1928) 203 Cal. 758.

  4. Holmes v. Koepsel (1940) 40 Cal. App. 2d 793.

  5. Sawdey v. Producers' Milk Co. (1930) 107 Cal. App. 467.

  6. Pope v. Halpern (1924) 193 Cal. 168.

  7. See DMV.org.

  8. See same.

  9. See California Courts website.

  10. See same.

  11. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC.

  12. CALCRIM 2240, endnote 1: Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. It is not required that he or she intend to break the law, hurt someone else, or gain any advantage.

  13. See same.

  14. California Vehicle Code 40508 VC, endnote 1.

  15. California Penal Code 19 PC. Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.

  16. California Vehicle Code 21703 VC.

  17. Gornstein v. Priver, 64 Cal. App. 249.

  18. Pittman v. Boiven, 249 Cal. App. 2d 207.

  19. See DMV.org.

  20. See California Vehicle Code 21651 VC.

  21. California Vehicle Code 21651 (b) VC.

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