The common headlight mistake that could cost you a $112 fine

Flashing your headlights to warn approaching motorists about a booze bus or an incident ahead is seen as an unwritten law of common courtesy on the roads.

However, this friendly gesture could set you back hundreds of dollars in fines and even demerit points should you get caught doing it in an unsafe manner.

A quick flash of the headlights might seem innocent enough but there are surprisingly strict laws around the use of your lights and particularly the high beams when driving on Australian roads.

Portrait of smiling young woman driving a car. Source: Getty Images
You might think flashing your headlights to warn oncoming cars is a courteous gesture, but it could actually cost you hundreds. Source: Getty Images

The rules of flashing your lights

In terms of using your high beams, most state governments follow two rulings that are included within the Australian Road Rules set by the National Transport Commission.

The first one to consider is based around the general usage of headlights and when it is safe to use your high beams with Rule 218 citing:

The driver of a vehicle must not use their vehicle’s headlights on a high beam if a driver is:

  1. travelling within 200m of another driver travelling in the same direction or

  2. less than 200m from an approaching vehicle.

This rule is then backed by the corresponding Rule 219 which states that:

A driver is not allowed to use any light upon their vehicle to dazzle another road user.

Two cars driving with headlights on. Source: Getty Images
The rules around using your headlights are actually very strict in all Aussie states. Source: Getty Images

The rules mean drivers need to be pretty careful as to where and when they use their lights on a full-beam setting as even the briefest hint of misuse can be penalised.

However, most states do have a loophole allowing drivers to momentarily switch their headlights to full-beam if they are warning the car ahead they are about to overtake them.

What are the penalties for misusing your lights?

It doesn’t matter where you go really as most states can punish drivers who fail to use their headlights correctly or are caught giving a quick warning flash to other drivers.

Some states in Australia have allocated the same penalties for anyone thought to be breaking either rule 218 or 219 with some examples including:

NSW: For drivers caught breaking either rule, they will most likely be handed a $112 fine and one demerit point on their license. However, challenging the verdict and taking it to court could see the fine balloon to a whopping $2,200 if found guilty by a judge.

QLD: Drivers in Queensland will face a fairly small fine for breaking either rule as they will be issued with a $55 fine and one demerit point.

SA: In one of the harshest penalties found anywhere in the country, drivers in South Australia will face a fine of $265 and an extra penalty levy of $92 bringing together a total fee of $357. The fine also comes with one demerit point added to their licence.

WA: In Western Australia, the terms all fall under the offence of inappropriate use of vehicle lights which carries a fine of $100 as well as the issuing of one demerit point.

TAS: Tasmanian drivers who are caught breaking either rule face a fine of $173 as well as the burden of having one demerit point added to their licence.

NT: The Northern Territory classifies breaking either of these rules as a general penalty of their 2007 Traffic Regulations Act bringing with it a fine of one penalty unit which currently sits at $157 but no issuing of demerit points.

ACT: The ACT also punishes any misuse of lights with a penalty units fine which sits at 1 penalty unit of $160 although challenging this in court could see it pushed up to 20 penalty units causing the fine to potentially rise to $3,200 if found guilty.

However, the rules and punishments are broken down differently in Victoria. For anyone caught driving around the Garden State and misusing their headlights, they face the following penalties:

  • It’s a $273 fine and one demerit point for failing to dip your headlights correctly

  • Drivers caught dazzling other motorists face a fine of 3 penalty units ($543) and the possibility of having three demerit points added to their licence.

At the end of the day, be smart about knowing when to use your lights on a full beam so that a friendly gesture to other motorists doesn’t unwittingly set you back hundreds of dollars.

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