In recent years, LED light headlight bulbs, fog lamps, ditch lights, pod lights, and light bars have become very popular among driving enthusiasts due to their impressive durability, efficiency, and power. However, this whole new range of lighting has created some confusion around what is considered road legal, and what might get you in trouble with road authorities. Of all these vehicle lighting categories, headlights and fog lights are typically used as primary lights when navigating the roads at night, so it’s important to know if they are road legal before you decide to run them while you drive on public roads.
LED Technology, Light Intensity, & Legal Requirements
LED technology, which stands for “Light Emitting Diode“, uses a highly efficient solid state light-emitting diode to produce light. Compared to halogen bulbs, which waste about 80% of their energy as heat as they glow to produce light, LED headlights are typically about 80% efficient, meaning that only about 20% of their energy is wasted as heat. The drastically superior efficiency of LED headlights allows more intense light to be produced per unit of energy. The emitted light from a LED headlight or fog light is generally a whiter color than halogen, which allows you to view the road ahead with more clarity. A more crisp view of the road also means added driving safety under various conditions.
Due to the immense intensity of LED headlights versus older, more traditional lighting technologies, you’ll want to make sure you’re not driving around blinding other drivers with overly intense headlights or fog lamps. The specific legal requirements for headlights vary from state to state, but headlights are generally considered road legal if their beam projects like anywhere between 50 and 100 meters ahead of the vehicle. In short, your vehicle’s lights should be bright enough for other vehicles to see you, and for you to see the road clearly, but not so bright that they blind oncoming vehicles. Additionally, there are usually legal limitations on the color of a road legal headlamp or fog lamp. Yellow and white are the only colors allowed on road legal lights.
Since legal regulations on vehicle lighting can vary significantly depending on what US state you’re in, or what part of the world you’re in, it’s important to remember to check with your local authorities on specific brightness and color requirements they may have. When determining which road legal lights to purchase, there are numerous factors to consider, so make sure you read the specifications and understand what you’re purchasing if you have to fulfill specific requirements.
Meaning of “SAE” On Street Legal Light Kits
You’ll notice that many of the fog light kits we sell on TotalZParts.com use the acronym SAE to signify road legal status. SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers, which is an international organization of engineers who are technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. The experts have developed and published technical standards and recommended practices that help to ensure products meet reasonable quality and performance standards. In order for a light to be SAE approved, it must meet the organization’s published certification standards. While the label “SAE” doesn’t always mean a light is fully road legal in a given area, it indicates that the product is designed to meet stringent performance and quality standards, all of which are typically part of the criteria government agencies require when determining if a light is road legal.
Should I Install Road Legal LED Lights?
After taking legal regulations into account, as well as your needs as an everyday driver or off road enthusiast, you’ll need to come to a decision about whether you want road legal lights, and where on your vehicle you should install them. Unless you’re never on public roads, your primary headlights should be road legal. On the other hand, if you want powerful fog lights that you mainly plan to use while off-roading, you may want to opt for non-SAE options that produce more lumens and project light further into the distance and to the sides of your vehicle.
Another rule of thumb: don’t buy cheap, unbranded LED lights. Many cheap options typically don’t have great engineering behind them, and haven’t been extensively tested like lights from brands such as Baja Designs, Rigid Industries, and Vision X Lighting. Moreover, when it comes to street legal headlights and fog lights, the beam angles on off brand lights are likely to be inconsistent, which can put you and other drivers in jeopardy while on the road at night. Finally, pay attention to the warranty that a manufacturer backs their products with. For example, Baja Designs and Rigid Industries both back their lights with a lifetime warranty, which goes to show you how confident they are in the engineering and build quality that has gone into each lighting solution.