How To Deal With Failed Headlights When Driving

Last Updated: 10/05/2022

Cars of today are built with many safety features included, but one of the oldest and most important safety features remains your headlights.

Headlights serve multiple purposes on a car.

First and foremost, they illuminate the road in front of you so that you can see where you are driving in the dark.

Secondly, they also allow other motorists to see where you are on the road so that accidents can be avoided, however, occasionally you may find yourself in a situation where your headlights fail.

This could be a partial failure during which only one headlight works, or a complete failure where you’re left with no headlights at all.

A partial failure is something you may not notice and could be driving around with for weeks.

It may be as simple as a bulb in one of your headlights having broken.

While this is a quick and simple thing to fix, if you do not check your car regularly it can be hard to spot that it’s not working.

Also, driving with a single headlight can present significant safety issues.

Other road users may think that instead of a car approaching there is in fact a motorbike.

Depending on what the fault is, a broken headlight can also mean that the other headlight is significantly brighter, meaning that drivers of oncoming vehicles can be dazzled and momentarily lose visibility of the road ahead.

A complete failure can be scary, and this is something that you will notice easily.

It’s very rare for both bulbs to break at the same time unless there is an underlying fault.

It will almost always be an electrical fault that causes this.

Driving without functioning headlights in the dark is illegal and so it’s vitally important that your lights are working and effective, however, what do you do if you find yourself in the unenviable position of your headlights failing when you’re out at night?

What You Will Learn

While you can regularly perform checks on your car to see if all of your lights are working, when you’re out and about and your lights fail, there can be little that you can do to prevent it from happening.

It then becomes a case of keeping yourself, your passengers and other road users safe.

Our guide is aimed at giving you some advice that may help keep you safe in scenarios where your headlights fail on you.

We’ve put it together in our usual format:

  • Step-By-Step Guide
  • Hints & Tips
  • Useful Information
  • Final Thoughts
  • Further Resources

Step-By-Step Guide

We’ve written this step-by-step guide for scenarios when your headlights fail while you’re out driving.

  • If your headlights go out while you are driving, the first thing you should do is take your foot off the accelerator and begin to reduce your speed. If you’re on a quiet, dark road with no other motorists, it may be wise to stop much more quickly.
  • As your speed reduces, use the taillights of other cars in front of you to ensure you remain on the road and travelling in a safe direction.
  • Focus on where the car should be heading – when you look away from where you want to go, the car will likely be steered away.
  • Try turning your headlight switch off and then on again. Sometimes there may be a faulty electrical connection or dodgy switch, so turning it off and on a few times may be enough to find a point at which the lights engage again.
  • If the lights still do not engage, ensure your sidelights are on so that other motorists can see you.
  • Begin to pull over to the side of the road when it is safe to do so, out of the flow of the traffic. If they are working, put your hazard lights on.
  • Once you have pulled over, you may be able to safely park by reversing, using the light from your reversing lights.
  • Finally, if you know how to and it is safe to do so, once parked you could try swapping or replacing a fuse. This can often be what’s needed to get your lights working again.

Hints & Tips

It can be frightening to lose all of your lights when driving at night and so sometimes preparation is going to be key in terms of making you best prepared for the situation.

Here are a few hints and tips to help you out in case this ever happens.

Always Regularly Inspect Your Car:

Test your lights at home in a safe environment and on a regular basis, every month at least.

This will hopefully help you to identify any issues such as flickering headlights or a single bulb that may be out or dull.

Pack A Torch:

Having a torch handy in the boot of your car is always a good idea just in case of accidents or breakdowns at night.

It goes without saying that it will also be useful should you find yourself with failed brake lights at night.

Reflective Safety Equipment:

Packing a reflective safety triangle and a hi-vis vest is also a good idea.

These are general safety aides, but they can be especially useful at night in scenarios when you have no lights.

Carry A Spare Bulb:

If you’re mechanical minded, carrying a spare bulb is especially useful if a single headlight fails.

In most vehicles, they’re fairly easy to replace.

Perhaps take time to familiarise yourself with the process before you next head out.

Your vehicle handbook will show you how to change a bulb.

Carry Spare Fuses:

Same again, but with fuses.

Having a few spare fuses can really come in useful, especially in case that is the cause of a total headlight failure.

Useful Information

In just about every scenario, it is illegal to drive on the UK roads without working headlights.

If you do so at night and are spotted by police, expect to be pulled over.

Some leniency may be exercised if you can prove it has just happened, but it’s a risk.

Similarly, if you have one headlight out, then you could find yourself with three points on your licence and a fine of £100.

It will often depend on the circumstance but it underlines how important it is to regularly inspect your car and test the headlights.

Final Thoughts

Experiencing a full headlight failure while driving is scary and can be quite stressful.

Your aim should always be to keep yourself safe.

Slow down, move over and try to find some level of illumination in your vehicle.

Even an interior light is better than nothing in terms of making your car visible to other vehicles.

As always, good car maintenance and a regular level of inspection can also be really helpful in being prepared for situations like this.

Further Resources