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What Does It Mean to Overdrive Your Headlights?

The term overdriving headlights means you’re traveling fast enough that your headlights aren’t covering the distance it would take to stop. The faster you travel and heavier your vehicle, the more stopping distance you’ll require.

Driving too fast is the most common cause of overdriving your headlights but low visibility can also shorten their throw and your stopping distance. Fog, rain or snow can all shorten your sight line and cause a dangerous situation where you cannot stop when something finally comes into your view.

overdriving headlights line

What Can Happen if You Overdrive Your Headlights?

When you overdrive your headlights, you risk not seeing a bend or other obstacle in the road. You may not be able to stop in time or overreact when adjusting your driving. It might be too late when you see the bend or other obstacles. No matter how hard you apply the brakes, you’ll still hit whatever obstacle is in front of you or leave the road.

Car driving on wet winding road at night
Driving at night can be dangerous, especially if you overdrive your headlights.

At What Speed Do You Overdrive Your Headlights?

The speed at which you’re overdriving your headlights largely depends on the driver’s reaction time, the quality of the brakes and headlights, and the size and weight of the vehicle. The weather conditions and whether you’re using low-beam or high-beam lights can play a tremendous factor.

Most vehicles light the road only 350 feet away, meaning you only have 350 feet to stop plus your reaction time. When you combine reaction time and braking distance, this occurs at about 70 miles per hour for most light passenger cars. As vehicles get larger and conditions get worse, this speed decreases. This is partially why speed limits are set where they are, and some roads even have lower night speed limits. Semi-trucks often have lower speed limits due to their braking distances.

Weather conditions and reaction times are going to vary. Younger drivers typically react faster than older drivers. However, younger drivers are also more likely to get distracted while driving. No matter the age or weather conditions, it’s safe to say that slowing down is by far the safest option for drivers.

Pro Tip: Long driving days are challenging! Use these 10 Simple Ways to Make RV Driving Days Not Suck.

Inside car from drivers perspective driving during the night
Slow down when driving at night to prevent the possibility of crashing.

Tips for Driving at Night

Driving at night can be a challenging adjustment for drivers. The reduced visibility and bright lights can make it difficult to see the road. Here are a few tips you should follow to not overdriving your headlights.

How to Drive at Night :: Tips & Techniques to Safely Drive in the Dark

Make Sure Your Headlights Are Positioned Properly

When you replace or upgrade headlights, you must make sure they are positioned properly. If they point too low, you will overdrive them much sooner than normal.

If your headlights point too high, you will blind oncoming traffic. Should you experience other drivers flashing you when you don’t have your high beams on, you may have headlights that need adjusting.

Headlights usually have easy adjustments and can be adjusted at home using tape and a wall. If you make any suspension modifications to your vehicle or even hook up a trailer you will change the pointing of your headlights and may need to modify their aim.

How To Properly Aim The Headlight and Foglight - Full Tutorial

Slow Down

As we repeatedly said above, slowing down will drastically increase your safety. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Slowing down reduces the likelihood of you experiencing an accident. Driving faster than the posted speed limit can be dangerous and get you an expensive ticket.

When the weather conditions change, you need to adjust your speeds accordingly. Just because the signs state that the speed limit is 60 or 65 doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive at those speeds during blizzard or monsoon conditions. Letting off the pedal will only add a few minutes to your trip, but at least you’ll arrive!

Man driving vehicle tired at night
Stay alert while on the road, especially once it is dark outside.

Use High Beams When Possible

Using your high beams greatly increases your visibility when driving at night and you don’t have to be overdriving your headlights. However, these lights can be blinding to other drivers on the road. You should only drive with your high beams on when there are no vehicles directly in front of you in either direction.

Many modern vehicles use technologies that automatically switch between low-beam and high-beam lights based on traffic. You want to give yourself the most visibility possible while ensuring the safety of other drivers on the road.

Reduce Interior Lighting

When you’re driving at night, it can be helpful to reduce the interior lighting on your dashboard and entertainment display. These screens can be very harsh lighting that can be distracting and hard on your eyes. Most vehicles have some sort of scroll wheel near the light switch that controls the brightness for all dashboard lighting. 

Never Drive Tired

There are nearly 100,000 accidents each year as a result of drivers driving when they’re tired. Avoid driving for prolonged stretches through the night whenever possible. Taking turns driving with a partner or making frequent stops can be helpful. Get out and stretch your legs, get your blood flowing, and eat healthy snacks.

Avoid consuming large amounts of sugar in an attempt to stay awake. The sugar crash you’ll experience after the sugar wears off will be much worse. Instead, find a safe place to park and get some rest if necessary. The more tired you become, the slower your reaction time. This will only increase the amount of distance required for you to stop your vehicle.

Minimize Clutter on Dash

Papers and other objects on your dash can be very distracting. They can block your vision and create reflections on the windshield. We strongly recommend keeping your entire dash free of clutter to minimize driving risks.

Take down any items hanging from your rear-view mirror, too. You want to have as much visibility as possible, and these items severely reduce it.

car headlight at night
Keep an eye out for any surprise wildlife when driving in the dark.

Be Alert for Critters

Cars aren’t the only things on the road at night – animals can be too. You never know when they could dart out in the road in front of you. Just because you don’t see a “deer crossing” sign doesn’t mean that a deer might not choose to cross the road.

Without overdriving your headlights, you should be scanning the road with your eyes. Look for any eyes reflecting in your lights. That could help you to know animals are active in the area. You can also look for signs of roadkill from other drivers. If dead animals are on the side of the road, there’s a chance they have friends still in the area.

Keep Your Distance

You should always maintain a safe distance between you and any vehicles in front of you. Because you won’t be able to see in front of the vehicle, you never know when they’ll need to brake or slow down. Following too closely reduces the time you have to stop without rear-ending the vehicle in front of you.

If you’re a larger vehicle, you will likely require more stopping distance. If you’re following too closely, you might not have enough room to stop, no matter how quickly you’re able to react. So keep your distance if you want to stay safe!

Busy highway at night with bright headlights
Maintain a safe distance if you are on the road with others at night

Avoid Looking at Oncoming Lights

If you’ve ever stared into bright lights at night, you know how blinding they can be. When driving on a two-lane road, the lights from an oncoming vehicle can make it hard to see. However, taking your eyes off the road when a car is speeding at you can be very dangerous. Instead of looking away, look towards the white line on the right side of the road until the vehicle passes.

By doing so, you can keep your vehicle in your lane and reduce any effects the bright lights may have on your eyes. Once the car passes, you can look back at the center of the road and not worry about experiencing what Manfred Mann sang about in his 1976 song.

Pro Tip: Learn the rules of the road by finding out Is Driving Your RV Barefoot Illegal?

Overdriving Your Headlights

Stay Safe and Don’t Overdrive Your Headlights

Safety should be at the top of any driver’s priority list when driving at any time of day. However, driving at night requires making a few important adjustments for optimal safety. You can stay safe and avoid overdriving your headlights by reducing your speed for the road and weather conditions. It’s better to err on the side of safety than to drive recklessly.

Have you ever made the mistake of overdriving your headlights? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Thursday 18th of January 2024

Critters - the minute you see the outline of a body or the reflection in their eyes, slow down, and immediately hit the horn. Yes, they can see your headlights but that just blinds them and disorients them. But those ears that they can rotate around 270 degrees, alert them as to when there is danger.

Slow down and hit the horn, those ears will tell them the danger is coming from the bright light heading in their direction and they'll flee from danger. And you slow down because they don't always make the best decisions as to which way to flee. You don't want anything weighing over a couple of hundred pounds hitting your front end or if they are in the middle of a jump, joining you in the front seat.

Time of day - try to avoid traveling towards the East at sunrise, nor towards the West at sunset. That little ball of fire can blind you a lot more than headlights, etc.

Paul Kajtna

Saturday 9th of July 2022

As a retired semi truck driver, the subject of headlights and driving at night was very interesting. I always aimed the headlights on my tractor and personal vehicles different from the factory setting, by moving the low beams slightly to the left so the left headlight was straight ahead and elevated a little; to reduce over-driving.. Nobody has ever flashed me because they were blinding them. I believe you should never over-drive your low beams at 65 mph. The lights below the bumper offer a wide light pattern to help seeing large animals on the shoulder. I recommend driving with glasses with blue-blocker and lowering the sun visor slightly to block oncoming super bright headlights; on divided highways. Grille guards are available for most vehicles now and often come with two holes to mount additional lights. Consider bolt on fog lights, with a flat cut-off beam.

Mortons on the Move

Sunday 28th of August 2022

Thanks for your thoughts. I totally agree withe the fogs and have done the same, added good cutoff fogs that run all the time to both my truck and motorhome.