he Internet is full of half-truths and whole falsehoods when it comes to driving lights. Here’s the final word in Australian driving light laws.
Australian road rules aren’t set in granite. They weren’t decided thousands of years ago and written in stone, never to be questioned. They’re alive, constantly changing and evolving with the times to suit new technology, safer testing methods and (surprisingly enough) the ever-changing nature of the automotive industry. Yep, even something as seemingly insignificant as a new lighting system coming to market has changed, and will continue to change, Australian laws. It allows the all-powerful government to change laws when they no longer make sense, when they aren’t applicable anymore, or when a public servant just needs to justify their job.
It’s something we saw in action recently. People all across the country receiving fines and defects for installing LED light bars without conforming to the 20-year-old rule of fitting additional lights in pairs. People kicked up a stink and the Australian Design Rules were amended to suit.
Sounds great, right? And it is. Except with the goal posts constantly moving it can bring about a whole lot of confusion about exactly what is and isn’t allowed – with a little overregulation thrown in for good mix. But we’re here to cut through the fog and give you the final word on what you can and can’t do with aftermarket driving lights.
WHAT THE OLD LAWS SAID
The current ADR (Australian Design Rule) that covers all things with regard to aftermarket vehicle lighting is ADR13. It goes into a whole host of technical specifications covering all things lighting, from driving lights right through to reverse lights and everything in between. There’s a few copies tucked into Highway Patrol gloveboxes all around the country that would unfortunately state driving lights need to be fitted in pairs, up to a total of four lights (188.8.131.52 for those playing at home). The logic made sense when all lights were round – helping to differentiate between one vehicle coming around the bend, or two with one half obscured. But it’s not exactly relevant with LED technology, and causes huge confusion over just how many lights a light bar actually counts as.
AND WHAT’S THE LAW NOW?
Since ADR13 first came into effect in 2007, it’s been revised a total of four times… each time bringing a few tweaks here and there for technical clarifications like the distances between side marker lights and the angle of visibility of a semi-trailer’s reverse lights. But it’s rule 184.108.40.206 that is the biggest change for 4X4 owners. Where it used to state ‘pairs of two or four’ it now simply states ‘up to a maximum of four’. There’s also been some confusion over just exactly how many lights an LED light bar actually counts as, and that’s recently been clarified as ‘a lamp where multiple light sources operate simultaneously from a single enclosed assembly’. One light bar, one light.
Of course there’s all the rules you’d expect like fog lamps operating independent from the headlights, and driving lights to be connected to high beams and automatically turning off when low beams are selected. There’s also no requirement for having them selectable – so they can run straight off the high-beam switch.
On the mounting front they need to be mounted symmetrically along the centre line of the vehicle, so a 10in bar on the driver’s side will also need a 10in bar on the passenger side; although one bar in the dead centre will also tick the boxes. They need to be mounted at the front of the vehicle, and be positioned in a way that won’t reflect light back at the driver (220.127.116.11).
There’s bad news for some though, as bars fitted above most bullbars will earn you a defect for a number of reasons. They contravene ADRs for bullbars by having solid-mounted accessories sticking outside the normal profile of the vehicle or bar, but they’ll also run afoul of ADR13 by blocking the driver’s field of view. The simple rules are: Keep them symmetrical and wired to the high beams, and if you can see them from the driver’s seat they’re probably illegal.
One bit of wording to pay close attention to is ‘up to a maximum of four’. This refers to additional lights so it includes fog lamps in a bullbar if the vehicle wasn’t originally fitted with them. Two new fog lights on the bar and a pair of HIDs in the middle will mean a light bar will count as a fifth light and be illegal – no matter where it’s mounted.
BUT CAN THEY BE MOUNTED ON THE ROOF?
While there is no provision in the ADRs that state you cannot have light bars mounted to the roof, each state’s road authority can make the call themselves over whether it’s illegal or not. We spoke to them all and discovered two things: The whole system is a dog’s breakfast and sorely needs to be standardised across the country, and trying to get an answer out of these departments is akin to getting blood from a stone. But here are the answers we eventually did get.
It’s not regarding just light bars where each State varies – for seemingly no reason. Camp or work lights go from one extreme to another in Australia. If you’re lucky enough to live in WA, NT or Qld there’s no specific restrictions, short of don’t use them to blind other drivers. ACT only requires a labelled and illuminated rocker switch, with Vic slightly more restrictive requiring covers to be fitted when on-road. Things get even more confusing in the rest of the country. NSW and SA will only allow work lights on the rear of the vehicle while Tas only allows them to be fitted to the sides. At least they agree on switching, with all three States requiring the switch to be located out of reach of the driver.
WHAT ABOUT REVERSE LIGHTS?
With so many cheap light bars on the market lately it’s not surprising to see they’re starting to turn up on roof racks functioning as massively powerful reverse lights. But it’s unarguably illegal. There’s very few laws regarding reverse lights – most dealing with automatically coming on when reverse is engaged and the angles the light is visible from. But for vehicles under 6m in length one light is mandatory, with one additional light being optional. They must also be mounted no lower than 250mm off the ground, and no higher than 1200mm. If you’ve got a ute with only one reverse light you’ll be able to install a light bar down low as your second; but if you have a wagon with two functioning reverse lights, a third on the roof rack will get you pinged.