One of the more popular custom jobs and modifications you can make to your truck is to add colored or flashing lights. With the right aftermarket application and design they can look stunning and add a massive amount of personality to your ride. But it is illegal?
I decided to do a little bit of research into the matter, as it’s very hard actually find a definite answer online. Here’s what I found:
It is illegal in all 50 US states to have red, blue, green or white flashing lights on your truck unless it is an emergency response vehicle. However, you can add colored lights to your truck, but the laws will differ from state to state and will be set by your local transport authority.
Truck manufacturers have to build their trucks to be in line with the law, so every vehicle they manufacture will adhere to the rules, with no exceptions, making them legal to drive no matter where you live.
The types of rules they need to follow regarding lighting legality includes how many lights are on the truck, where they are placed, what functions they service, and how far into the distance the lamps will shine.
That’s all well and good at the point the truck rolls off the production line, but as soon as it’s in your hands it becomes your responsibility to stick to the rules.
For example, if you have a headlight missing or your turn signals are faulty, then you will get pulled over at some point.
But that stuff is all really obvious, but where it gets more complex is around adding new lights to your truck including LEDs, underglows, color lights, brighter lights and other aftermarket lighting kits such as LED truck bed kits (which you can view here).
There are two levels of bureaucracy that you need to be aware when adding aftermarket lights to your car, as not only does the Department of Transportation have legislation, but the law will also differ from state to state.
Are Colored Headlights Legal?
Truck headlights are governed by legislation on what color they can and can’t be.
And this is a rule that is really simple to follow; they can only be white or amber, with zero exceptions.
Whilst you might see some guy driving his truck or car down the highway with some funky color headlights, don’t think it’s not going to be long before the cops pull him over.
The same rule applies to tail lights and turn signals so don’t modify or change the color on them in anyway.
Is it Legal to Have Flashing Lights on Your Truck?
You cannot add red, blue, green or white flashing lights to your truck under any circumstances unless yours is an emergency response vehicle or you’re a local volunteer who has received written consent from the local authorities. You can read more about the exceptional circumstances for emergency response personnel further down the page.
If you do add illegal flashing lights to your truck and get caught doing so you will receive a penalty or potential jail time under the law of impersonating an emergency responder.
Is it Legal to Have Colored Lights on Your Truck?
Most US states let you fit amber or white lights to your truck, but there will be limitations placed on how many, and where exactly you place them on the truck.
The exact legal stand on colored truck lighting will be different depending on where you live, so you should visit the state authority website for your area or the website of your local Department of Motor Vehicles authority.
To give you an example of how a state might word the law, here’s what can be found on the Ohio state website regarding colored vehicle lights.
“No vehicle shall be equipped with a light of any color other than white or amber mounted on the front nor shall any vehicle be equipped with a light of any color other than red mounted in the rear.”
Once you have done your research it’s important to understand what the different colors means and how they are used throughout the United States. Here’s a quick explainer:
Is it Illegal to Drive with a Neon Undercarriage?
There are guides elsewhere on the Truck Styler website about aftermarket underglow and neon undercarriage kits. But are these types of lights legal on a truck?
Let’s start off with neon colors.
If your local state does allow for aftermarket lighting kits to be added to truck, then there’s no way that it will allow for neon colors.
Because neon colors are not approved by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) or Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and as at July 2018 when this guide was written there are no neon automotive lights on the market that are currently approved.
The national law states that headlights and tail lights have to be DOT approved, and this applies to all 50 US states.
To check to see if yours are, simply take a look at them to see if there is a DOT stamp on the light. That will signify you have DOT approved LED lights on your truck.
SAE approved is very similar, but is a world-wide standard, and all truck manufacturers will adhere to both DOT and SAE rulings.
Is it Illegal to Drive with Underglow?
But things are a little different with underglow lights that are not neon in color.
It will depend on your state though and will depend on how harmful the local authority believes the color you are using could be to other road users.
As already discussed, there won’t be any US state that allows for colors that are used by the emergency services, so that will rule out green, red and blue underglows.
It’s worth looking up what your local legislation is before you buy truck underglow lighting, as it can be so different depending on where you live.
As an example, white, yellow, and amber underglow lights are legal in Alaska, but in Michigan it’s completely illegal no matter what color you use.
You can read more about this on the excellent FindLaw website who have their own guide to underglow light legality.
Are LED Headlight Bulbs Illegal?
No, they are not, but will be laws governing how they are fitted and used on your truck.
As a general guideline, you should follow these tips if you want to stay legal with your truck’s LED headlights:
- The beam should not be blinding for the approaching driver
- Beam should reach to sufficient distance to make driver aware of upcoming road hazards, while driving at higher speeds
- Color of beam should highlight different colored objects properly
You might hear other truck owners saying that LED bulbs are illegal which isn’t the case, but I can understand why they might think this.
The reason there’s confusion over the legality is because most truck owners who fit LED bulbs will place them in a reflector designed for the previous halogen lamps.
This will then affect the beam pattern, making it dangerous and blinding to drivers approaching your truck.
If you fit the LED bulbs correctly using proper LED reflectors that will then make the beam project to the correct intensity, you will be street safe and legal.
What are the Brightest Headlights that are Legal?
Getting collared by the police for overly bright headlights is more common than you might think and will often happen to drivers who have fitted their own aftermarket bulbs.
It can be easily avoided though, simply by understanding better which of the bright headlights are legal and safe to use on a truck – as you can buy ones which aren’t actually meant for road use, and only on private land.
The ones that are not DOT or SAE approved will normally be labelled with an E icon.
The Power Bulbs website has a really good explainer on what’s legal and what’s not, and I would recommend that you take a look at this blog post on bulb legality for more information on what products to buy.
What About Voluntary Emergency Service Personnel?
You guys are in luck, as the law around truck lighting can be very different for you, but again it will depend on what state you are volunteering in.
As an example, the state of New York lets volunteer fire department personnel add one blue flashing light to their vehicle. Similarly, volunteer ambulance personnel can add a green light to their truck.
The law in New York tends to be quite similar from state to state, but you will only be allowed to activate the flashing light during an actual emergency and with prior written consent to have it installed.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for me to answer your question about the legality of certain lighting on your truck due to the differences from state to state, but this guide should be a good start point for your research.
There will be loopholes depending on where you live, and those will mainly relate to whether you use your truck on private land, as you won’t have to stick to the law in most cases when used privately.
But, I don’t know anybody who won’t want to take their truck out on the public roads, especially once it’s been kitted out with some cool aftermarket LED lighting.
So please stay educated, visit your local authority websites, and if in doubt send them an email or phone them up to get clarity on whether it’s illegal to have certain lights on your own truck.