In the state of New Jersey headlights are required to be used at certain times and in certain conditions per New Jersey Statute Annotated (NJSA) 39:3-46.
This portion of NJ says one must use their headlights be used between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise. Headlights must be used as well whenever rain, mist, snow or other precipitation or atmospheric moisture requires the use of windshield wipers by motorists. Also headlights should be turned on during any time when, due to smoke, fog, unfavorable atmospheric conditions or for any other cause there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead. So when visibility is 500 feet or less in NJ, use your headlights on your vehicle.
NJSA 39:3-47 gives the penalty for driving without headlights by saying here that no person shall drive, move, park or be in custody of any vehicle on any street or highway during the times when lighted lamps [headlights] are required. Failure to use headlights when they are required by NJ law may result in a fine not to exceed $50. NJ law then goes on to say that there shall be no motor vehicle points or auto insurance eligibility points assessed against any person for a violation of this subsection of the NJSA. Also it notes that a person who is fined under this subsection for a violation of this subsection shall not be subject to a surcharge under the New Jersey Merit Rating Plan.
While it is unsafe to not use your headlights one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, any time you use your windshield wipers due to weather conditions or when visibility is low, the penalty is a just a fine and no points assessed by the DMV or your car insurance company. However if you were to be in an accident and you did not have your headlights on and thus this was a contributing factor to the accident then this seemingly minor law could cause you to be found at fault and be found at least partially responsible, due to NJ comparative negligence laws, for the accident with the car insurance companies working claims that result from the accident.
With car insurance, comparative negligence is a term used to indicate the degree of fault each driver involved in an accident contributes to the cause of the accident. In New Jersey the automobile insurance company investigates the accident and determines how much each vehicle involved contributed to the accident that occurred.
When you are seeking coverage for your damages from your own insurance company, through your Collision coverage, comparative negligence does not apply. However, if you are pursuing a claim against the other driver, his car insurance company will determine whether and to what extent their driver is at fault for the accident.
New Jersey's law does not provide specific guidelines or dictate procedures for assessing fault and responsibility. The amount of fault is determined on a case by case basis by the car insurance companies involved in the claims depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident.
For example, suppose you were driving in a dense patch of fog without your headlights and got hit by a car that was speeding. Each of you likely would be found a percentage at fault due to the NJ comparative negligence laws (NJSA 2A:15-5.2). In NJ an individual's fault for the accident cannot be more than the individual from whom damages are sought.
So if in the accident example we gave, you would only be able to recover from the other party's Liability coverage if you are found 50% or less at fault. If you are more at fault than the other person then you could not recover for your damages. The amount of damages paid to you is reduced by the percentage you are considered at fault. In other words, if you were considered 50% at fault for the accident because you did not have your headlights on for the other car to see you in the fog, and had $1,000 in damage to your car, you would be paid $500 by the other person's insurance company since that is 50%.
It is important when driving your vehicle in NJ you have your headlights on at dusk, night, dawn, on dark days and whenever weather conditions reduce visibility to less than 500 feet. Remember that your vehicle's headlights should to be turned on whenever your windshield wipers are in use. While being ticketed for not using your headlights may not result in DMV or insurance points or a car insurance surcharge but if you are in an auto accident it can be seen as a contributing factor and cause you to be found at fault or partially at fault.
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