What are Parking Lights?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Parking lights are automotive lamps designed to increase the visibility of a car in a variety of situations. Although most nations no longer require the use of these lights, they can be extremely useful. Almost all cars are fitted with them, although they are often linked with the headlights. Formerly, parking lights were run on a different electrical system, and were intended for use when cars were parked along narrow, poorly lit roads, to alert oncoming drivers to the presence of the parked car. In some regions of the world, they still serve this function.

A truck with amber parking lights on the side of the headlights.
A truck with amber parking lights on the side of the headlights.

Except in the United States, parking lights must have clear lenses so that they emit white light. The white light is highly visible, even in poor conditions, although it is not as bright as the headlights, as the lamps and surface area covered by the lens are smaller. In the United States, such lights are frequently produced with amber lenses, to help distinguish them from red brake lights and white headlights.

Typically, a car has parking lights located on either side of the front of the car, on the outside of the headlights. They may also appear in the rear, or along the side of the vehicle to further increase visibility. In a car where these lights are separated from headlights, allowing drivers to use one or both sets, they are usually linked to the switch used for headlights, which is turned once for parking and twice for headlights.

Although parking lights are sometimes referred to as running lights, they are not always the same. Drivers should be aware that, in most regions, it is illegal to drive at night with just the parking lights on although this practice used to be allowed in some cities. In most US states, it is illegal to drive with just the parking lights on whether in the day or night. Leaving running lights on during the day is perfectly legal, however, and is often encouraged. Drivers should consult the the appropriate regulatory body to be sure of the rules that affect them.

In addition to increasing visibility and alerting other drivers to the presence of a car, parking lights can also be useful in emergencies. In some cities where it is permitted, drivers use them to drive at night in well light areas, to help reduce light pollution. In addition, should a headlight go out while driving, the lights, which are typically on with the headlights in most car designs, can help to compensate and make other drivers aware that the approaching vehicle is a car with one headlight, not a motorcycle.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


By law, in UK, if you park in the night on a road with a minimum of 40 mph speed limit - you should park with parking lights on! It is ridiculous as it may drain the battery and I've been few times in winter time in this situation and take it from me, it is extremely frustrating when you can't even unlock the doors! Plus, when you leave the parking lights on, it lights up the in car panel as well, so this is a very attractive method for car thieves!

Personally, I will use it only if I'm in the car or, for a short time, not far from it.


My dad told me that the main function of parking lights these days is to help other drivers see the vehicle from the side. People who are about to turn onto a street can see a car's parking lights when they are right in front of them and perpendicular to them, and they know to wait until the car passes before turning onto the street.


I sometimes turn the parking lights on by mistake, especially early in the morning or at twilight, when there is a bit of daylight mixed in with the darkness. If I don't turn the knob all the way to the right, then I only activate the parking lights.

When I first got my vehicle, this confused me. I thought that as soon as the lights switched on, I had turned the knob far enough. I didn't find out until it got darker that my headlights actually weren't on.

I wish that my car wasn't designed this way. Since there really is no use for parking lights except when combined with headlights, why do we even have the option to turn only the parking lights on?


@JackWhack – I only leave them on if I am inside the vehicle. If I'm driving a friend around for errands, and I stay in the car while she goes into various places, I leave just the parking lights on to alert other drivers that I am there.

I don't know how much of a drain leaving them on would be on the battery, but I don't intend to find out. I've been stranded with a dead battery before, and it's not something I want to experience again.


Do people leave their parking lights on while they go inside if they are parked on a busy street? This seems like it would drain the battery.


The comment about GM using parking lights as driving lights, if one looks carefully, they are brighter than parking lights, just in yellow/amber color, so they are not the same.


Is it illegal to use parking lights in the rain?


In B.C Canada vehicles may use fog lamps instead of main lights, but the light must be wired up so that the tail and park lamps are lit when the fog lamps are used.


"It is illegal in most US states to operate a vehicle with only parking lights on." Well that doesn't makes sense, because with the advent of daytime running lights, a lot of car makers (GM, for example) are using bright yellow parking lights as their daytime running lights!


I grew up in a state where it was illegal to drive with only your parking lights on, whether it was day or night. Now I see a lot of cars with only their parking lights on. Now, I hear that GM vehicles are being made that when the vehicle is turned on, only the parking lights come on? Why?


It is illegal in most US states to operate a vehicle with only parking lights on, regardless of time of day. Parking lights are only for when your car is parked (for instance, pulled over on the highway at night, so others know you are there). It's confusing for other drivers, and may actually *cause* an accident. If you want to increase visibility, turn on your headlights.

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