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Lighting, Head Lamps and Spot Lights on Vehicles and Rules of the Road

There is often much confusion amongst vehicle owners about the lights they are allowed to fit on their vehicles. Much of this is uncertainty pertaining to the terminology of what a headlamp is and what a spotlight would be.

Vehicle owners often refer to extra lamps attached to the front of the vehicle as spot lamps where they are in fact not spotlights. A spot lamp is adjustable and can only be attached to the vehicle of a doctor, emergency response and breakdown vehicle etc. As a general guide- where there are an extra set of headlamps, they are legal, if they can be adjusted they are not legal.

These lamps are a set of fixed lamps and as long as it complies with the headlamp requirements it should be legal. They are not spotted lights.

Herewith is a closer look at some of the Regulations pertaining to headlamps.

Regulation 159: Headlamps

(1)     No person shall operate on a public road-

  1. a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, a motor tricycle with one wheel in front or trailer, unless it is equipped in front on each side of its longitudinal centre line with-
    1. one headlamp capable of emitting a main beam and a dipped beam; 
    2. one headlamp capable of emitting a main beam and one headlamp capable of emitting a dipped beam; or 
    3. one headlamp contemplated in subparagraph (i) or headlamps contemplated in subparagraph (ii) and an additional headlamp capable of emitting a main beam; 
  2. a motorcycle without a sidecar, motor tricycle with one wheel in front, unless it is equipped in front with-
    1. one headlamp capable of emitting a main beam and a dipped beam; 
    2. one headlamp capable of emitting a main beam and one headlamp capable of emitting a dipped beam, both of which are fitted in the same vertical plane; or 
    3. two headlamps, each capable of emitting a main beam and a dipped beam, both of which are fitted in the same horizontal plane; or 
  3. a motorcycle with a sidecar, unless-
    1. the motorcycle is equipped in front with one headlamp contemplated in paragraph (b)(i) or headlamps contemplated in paragraph (b)(ii) or (iii); and 
    2. the sidecar is equipped with one parking lamp which complies with the provisions of regulation 164 or with one headlamp contemplated in paragraph (b)(i), subject to the proviso to regulation 161(4)(a).

(2) At least one headlamp contemplated in sub-regulation (1)(a) capable of emitting a dipped beam or a parking lamp complying with the provisions of regulation 164 shall be so fitted on each side of the longitudinal centre line of the motor vehicle concerned that the portion of the illuminating surface thereof furthest from the longitudinal centre line of the motor vehicle is not more than 400 millimetres from the outer edge of the front of the motor vehicle.

(3) The main-beam and dipped-beam of a headlamp fitted to a motor vehicle first registered on or after 1 January 2002, shall comply with the requirements of standard specification SANS 1046 “Motor vehicle safety: lights and light signalling devices installed on motor vehicles and trailers”, and standard specification SANS 1376 “Lights for motor vehicles”, Part 2: “Headlights”: Provided that the height of the dipped beam and headlamp of a light motor vehicle shall not exceed 1400 millimetres measured from the ground to the centre of the lamp.

Regulation 159. Head lamps

(1) No person shall operate on a public road

(a) a motor vehicle, other than a motor cycle, a motor tricycle with one wheel in front or trailer, unless it is equipped in front on each side of its longitudinal centre-line with

(i) one head lamp capable of emitting a main-beam and a dipped-beam;

(ii) one head lamp capable of emitting a main-beam and one head lamp capable of emitting a dipped-beam; or

(iii) one headlamp contemplated in item (i) or headlamps contemplated in item (ii) and an additional headlamp capable of emitting a main-beam;

Main Beam and Dipped Beam

Regulation 160. Main-beam

Every headlamp emitting a main-beam of light shall be so adjusted and maintained that

(a) it shall be capable of adequately illuminating an area ahead of the motor vehicle concerned enabling the driver to see any person, vehicle or substantial object at a distance of at least 100 metres ahead; and

(b) it can be extinguished by the use of a device which simultaneously shall cause or allow the dipped-beam of light to be emitted or continue to be emitted from a headlamp.

Reg 161. Dipped-beam

(1) Every headlamp emitting a dipped-beam of light which, when projected onto a vertical screen, shows a beam pattern with a sharp, clearly defined cut-off line diagonal to the left (hereinafter referred to as the “diagonal cut-off line”) and horizontal to the right (hereinafter referred to as the “horizontal cut-off line”), shall be so adjusted and maintained that, when the motor vehicle concerned is on a reasonably level road such beam at the horizontal cut-off line shall

(c) slant downwards at a percentage inclination of at least 0,5 per cent which percentage inclination shall be calculated in accordance with the formula

{{(h_1~-~h_2)} over L}~x~100; and

(b) strike the road surface ahead of the motor vehicle within a distance in metres calculated in accordance with the formula

200 x h1

(2) In the formulae referred to in sub-regulation (1)

(a) “h1” represents the height in metres of the headlamp measured to the centre of the headlamp vertically from ground level;

(b) “h2” represents the height in metres of the horizontal cut-off line measured vertically from ground level at the screen contemplated in sub-regulation (1); and

(c) “L” represents the distance in metres of the screen contemplated in sub-regulation (1) measured horizontally from the headlamp as illustrated hereunder.

(3) Every headlamp emitting a dipped-beam of light which, when projected onto a vertical screen, shows a symmetrical light-pattern or does not have a diagonal and horizontal cut-off line, shall be so adjusted and maintained that when the motor vehicle concerned is on a reasonably level road, the centre of the intense part of such beam shall slant downwards to strike the road surface ahead of the motor vehicle within a distance not exceeding 45 metres.

(4) Every headlamp emitting a dipped-beam of light shall be so adjusted and maintained that-

(a) it shall be capable of adequately illuminating an area ahead of the motor vehicle concerned enabling the driver to see any person, vehicle or substantial object at a distance of at least 45 metres ahead of the motor vehicle: Provided that the provisions of this paragraph shall not apply to a headlamp emitting a dipped-beam of light fitted to the side-car of a motorcycle;

(b) it does not cause a dangerous glare to oncoming traffic on a reasonably level road; and

(c) the intersection of the diagonal and horizontal cut-off lines of a dipped-beam referred to in sub-regulation (1), or the centre of the intense part of a dipped beam referred to in sub-regulation (3), shall not deflect to the right.

Reg 177. Use of spot lamp

No person shall operate on a public road a motor vehicle if it is fitted with a spot lamp, which can be so adjusted as to enable a beam of light emitted therefrom to be deflected in any direction: Provided that a spot lamp which is adjustable -

(a) may be fitted and used for official purposes on any ambulance, rescue-, fire-fighting-, police-, or traffic-control vehicle;

(b) may be fitted to a vehicle owned by a medical practitioner or veterinarian, and used in the execution of such person’s professional duties; or

(c) may be fitted to a breakdown vehicle or a vehicle employed in connection with the supply of electricity or other public essential services: Provided that it is used solely at the scene of an accident or breakdown or for the examination of overhead telephone, telegraph or power lines.

Reg 185. Lamps not prescribed or authorised, prohibited

No lamp other than a lamp prescribed or authorised in terms of these regulations shall at any time be fitted to any vehicle operated on a public road.

Conclusion

It is important to keep in mind that there is a set of SABS specifications to comply with when adding additional lights to the vehicle. As an example, it is stipulated that lights may not be attached at a height higher than 2.1m. This is important for those considering attaching headlights to a roll bar. Best advice would be to check with your local licensing/traffic authority to ensure that your vehicle and the lights thereon are regarded and cleared as being road worthy.

Also view:

Driving at Night

Driving Lights On

Lighting and Safe Driving

Additional Headlamps and Fitment for Safety on the Roads

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