Vehicle lighting

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When the vehicle lighting is called the lighting equipment of vehicles that are required to be seen at dusk, darkness or bad weather conditions and enough to see yourself. All vehicles have standard lighting that is prescribed for the respective type of vehicle. Additional lighting equipment is possible. The use of control electronics and sensors results in automatic lighting .

Taillights of a Thai tour bus

However, only the lighting of land vehicles is shown below.

Exterior automotive lighting

In principle, only white and yellow light may shine to the front, only red, white and yellow light to the rear and only yellow light to the side.

Passenger cars

LED daytime running lights on an Audi A4 B8
Rear of a Wiesmann Roadster with individual lights for all required functions

The standard for passenger cars is two lights at the front with:

  • High beam to illuminate the road when no other road user is dazzled,
  • Low beam to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic and other road users,
  • Parking light (also: "Limitation light "), which must light up together with the low beam or high beam, so that even if one of the other lights fails, at least the outlines of the vehicle can be seen by the oncoming traffic,
  • If necessary, parking light consisting of one-sided parking light on the left or right, e.g. for parking in insufficiently lit areas in urban areas,
  • Direction indicators (coll. "Blinker") in orange color, used in the USA and Canada as a yellow parking light, partly also acting to the side,
  • if necessary, fog lights that have a specially designed lens and are attached very deeply to the vehicle so as not to cause self-dazzling if visibility is impaired by fog, snowfall or rain
  • If necessary, cornering lights , when the indicator is activated or when cornering at speeds below 40 km / h, an auxiliary light illuminates the edge of the road asynchronously to the side of the road. Mostly installed in combination with fog lights,
  • if necessary, long-range spotlights , which represent an additional high beam,
  • If necessary, daytime running lights that are switched on automatically when the ignition is switched on and switched off when the main lighting is switched on. This has a lower light output and power consumption compared to the low beam, which means that consumption only increases slightly. The deviation from the other rule that the front lighting may only be activated together with the rear lights initially led to irritations at traffic controls due to the low level of awareness.
  • Some vehicles from the fire brigade, police and other aid organizations (e.g. THW ) have front beacons on the radiator grille (usually two).

to the rear as taillights :

  • two rear lights in red color,
  • two brake lights in red that shine much more strongly than the tail light. According to EU law, since 1998 a third brake light has to be attached to all new cars in the EU, in the middle at the rear, higher than the other two brake lights. In sedans, coupes and station wagons, the installation location is often behind the rear window or as a strip of lights in the rear spoiler, in convertibles in or on the trunk lid,
  • two direction indicators like the front orange, in the USA and Canada also red, partly switched brake lights,
  • two rear reflectors (red) with retroreflection,
  • License plate light illuminating the license plate in white color. Alternatively, a self-illuminating license plate can be mounted on the vehicle,
  • one or two rear fog lights in red color,
  • one or two reversing lights in white color, which however may only emit light when reverse gear is engaged.

to the side:

  • If necessary, side marker lights in yellow to better show the vehicle outline in the dark, if they are integrated in the rear light, red is also mandatory in the EU, recommended in the USA for vehicles manufactured from 1968 onwards, mandatory from 1970, approved in the EU since 1997 and for vehicles from 6 meters in length since then regulation.
  • If necessary, yellow direction indicators on the side , mostly attached to the front.

In addition, vehicles from the fire brigade, police and other aid organizations (e.g. THW ) have special signals on the roof.

In some states it is also mandatory to switch on daytime running lights .

Fog lights and rear fog lights

Conditions of use in Germany

Fog lights and rear fog lights may only be used if visibility is impaired due to the weather. In Germany, rear fog lights may only be used if the visibility is less than 50 m through fog (not through rain or snowfall) ( Section 17 III 5 StVO). The maximum speed then allowed is 50 km / h. Contrary to popular belief, fog lights in Germany are not only allowed to be switched on in fog, but also when visibility is impaired by snowfall or rain. Whether the visibility is less than 50 m is irrelevant for the fog lights. A synonym for the front fog lights is therefore also “bad weather headlights”, which better specifies the intended use in Germany.

Conditions of use in Austria

Table: Lighting regulations in Austria

The following special features exist in Austria:

  • Fog lights may always be used together with or instead of dipped headlights, i.e. not only in fog
  • When using rear fog lights, there is no limit to the visual impairment specified in meters, so switching on is a discretionary decision
  • When towing, at least the dipped beam must be switched on on the towing vehicle; If necessary, emergency lighting must light up on the towed vehicle

Voltage and electrics

The on-board voltage for the lighting in cars is usually 12 volts. Until the 1970s there were still some models where the on-board voltage was 6 volts. It is important that the left and right sides of the vehicle are separately protected against overcurrent so that one side of the vehicle is always illuminated in the event of a defect.

Trucks and buses

In principle, these vehicles have the same lighting equipment as passenger cars. The on-board voltage here is usually 24 volts. Trucks and buses that are longer must have yellow side marker lights . From a width of 1.80 m, vehicles may have forward-looking white and rearward-looking red clearance lights; from a width of 2.10 m, these must be present at the outermost points. The distance to the front or rear lights must be at least 20 cm. The lights on one side of the vehicle may be combined. At the rear end of the two long sides of the trailer, a forward-looking white lane warning light is permitted.

Sicherungskasten Rechtes Rücklicht Linkes Rücklicht Blinkgeber Drittes Bremslicht Rechtes Standlicht Linkes Standlicht Rechter Seitenblinker Linker Seitenblinker Blinker vorne rechts Blinker vorne links Fernlicht Fernlicht Abblendlicht Abblendlicht Dashboard Warnblinkschalter Lenkstockschalter für Blinker Lenkstockschalter für Lichthupe und Fernlicht Lichtschalter Bremspedalschalter Klemmenbezeichnung
Basic circuit diagram of the European car lighting
Sicherungskasten Rechtes Rücklicht Linkes Rücklicht Blinkgeber Drittes Bremslicht Rechtes Standlicht Linkes Standlicht Rechter Seitenblinker mit Seitenbeleuchtung vorne Linker Seitenblinker mit Seitenbeleuchtung vorne Blinker vorne rechts mit gelbem Standlicht / Markierungsleuchte Blinker vorne links mit gelbem Standlicht / Markierungsleuchte Fernlicht Fernlicht Abblendlicht Abblendlicht Dashboard Warnblinkschalter Lenkstockschalter für Blinker Lenkstockschalter für Lichthupe und Fernlicht Lichtschalter Bremspedalschalter Klemmenbezeichnung Warnblinkgeber
Basic circuit diagram of the American car lighting

Approval regulations Europe

ECE test marks for headlights and rear lights (all ECE test marks are approved throughout the EU):

E1 Germany
E2 France
E3 Italy
E4 Netherlands
E5 Sweden
E6 Belgium
E7 Hungary
E8 Czech Republic
E9 Spain
E10 Serbia
E11 United Kingdom
E12 Austria
E13 Luxembourg
E14 Switzerland

Headlight version:

A position light
B fog light
C low beam
R high beam
CR high and low beam
C / R high or low beam
HC halogen low beam
HR halogen high beam
HCR halogen high and low beam
HC / R halogen high or low beam
DC xenon low beam
DR xenon high beam
RL daytime running lights
DC / R bi-xenon

/ - do not turn on together

Rear light version:

A marker light
AR reversing lights
F rear fog light
IA reflector
R tail light
S1 brake light
2a rear turn signal light

other lights:

1, 1a, 1b front sight lights different designs
5 additional flashing lights on the side for vehicles up to 6 m in length
6 additional flashing lights on the side for vehicles longer than 6 m
SM1 side marker light for all vehicles
SM2 side marker light for vehicles up to 6 m in length

Right arrow or left arrow The arrow indicates the installation direction and always points to the outside of the vehicle. If there is no arrow, the light can be installed at the rear either on the right or left.

Vehicle interior lighting

Vehicle interior lighting from the Opel Omega with two reading lights

The vehicle interior lighting includes all lights used in the interior of a vehicle, both lights that are used for general lighting - as in a living room - and - especially in motor vehicles - the instrument lighting; Indicator and signal lights are not included.

The general illumination in passenger cars with a closed body is mostly used for lights attached to the vehicle roof. Usually they can be operated with door contact switches and other switches. Glove compartment and luggage compartment lighting are designed in a similar manner. Reading lights should be glare-free for the driver. The lamps used are mainly festoon lamps and LEDs .

In larger vehicles, e.g. B. trains and ships, depending on the electrical voltage available in the on-board network, larger lamps in common household designs are used.

In motor vehicles, indirect, mostly dimmable lighting with glass base lamps or LEDs are used for instrument lighting in order to achieve freedom from glare and reflection.


Car and truck trailers have white reflectors or marker lights pointing forward if they are wider than the towing vehicle . The rear lighting corresponds to that of passenger cars, whereby reversing lights can be omitted. To be recognized as a trailer, two red equilateral triangles with a side length of 15 cm are required as reflectors. There must be yellow reflectors or lights as side markings. The towing vehicle acts as the voltage source for the trailer. It has a trailer socket that has to be connected separately to the actual trailer coupling.

Bicycle lights

In Germany, bicycles in public traffic areas must be equipped with the following lighting devices according to Section 67 StVZO :

  • a bicycle dynamo with a nominal power of three or six watts, the nominal voltage of which is six or twelve volts. Alternatively, batteries or rechargeable batteries of any nominal voltage may be used, provided this is adapted to the lights used,
  • one or two forward-looking white light headlights,
  • at least one forward-looking white reflector,
  • at least one rear light for red light, the lowest point of which on the illuminating surface is not less than 250 mm above the road,
  • a red large-area reflex reflector marked with the letter Z between 250 and 1200 mm above the lane (the tail light and the reflex reflector may be combined in one device),
  • forward and backward-looking yellow reflectors on the bicycle pedals,
  • At least two yellow spoke reflectors, offset by 180 ° and acting to the side, on the spokes of the front wheel and the rear wheel or ring-shaped connected retroreflective white stripes on the tires or rims or in the spokes of the front wheel and the rear wheel or reflective spokes or spoke sleeves.

The following are also permitted:

  • an additional rear light for red light that also works when stationary,
  • additional yellow retroreflective means that act sideways,
  • Direction indicators on multi-lane bicycles and on bicycles where the structure covers the hand signals.

In some points these provisions of the StVZO are already outdated. There are now taillights approved according to StVZO, which combine taillights and parking light functions in a single light, and bicycle headlights that have a parking light function at the front.

It applies to all bikes:

  • The headlight and the mandatory tail light do not need to be permanently attached to the bike; however, they must be carried with you and, if necessary (i.e. in the dark or in poor visibility), attached and used.
  • Headlights and tail lights do not need to be switched on together if they are not dynamo-operated.
  • The lighting regulations also apply to mountain bikes if they are used in public traffic areas.

In Austria , the lighting regulations for racing bikes only apply to those with a weight of more than twelve kilograms. In addition, the lighting can be operated with batteries or rechargeable batteries and can be removed during the day. Red LEDs may also be used towards the rear.

Special forms

MB 250GD "Wolf" short;
the camouflage headlights to the left and right of the license plate
  • Vehicles that require special attention in traffic often have one or more yellow-red (orange) rotating beacons . That can be B. vehicles for road maintenance or garbage collection, but also special transports or dangerous goods .
  • Emergency vehicles have blue rotating beacons and some blue front flashers
  • military vehicles also have a so-called camouflage circle . These include slit-shaped camouflage headlights on the front of the vehicle, camouflaged rear lights as well as camouflaged brake lights and a guide cross on the underside of the vehicle rear .

There are also passive lighting devices such as reflectors which, in the form of a contour marking, significantly improve the visibility of an otherwise difficult to recognize vehicle; for example, a truck standing across the lane. The prerequisite for this is lighting of the marked vehicle. This must take place at approximately the same angle as the viewer stands to the illuminated object, as is the case with a car headlight to the driver.

Rail vehicle lighting

Tram and subway vehicles in Germany have - like the old motor vehicle regulations (see below) - instead of red, possibly also yellow brake lights. Such vehicles, which operate as a railway under the Railway Building and Operating Regulations, must have a white headlights . This can be switched on manually if necessary.


From 1936 to 1993 all main headlights, fog lights and high beam lights in France had to shine in yellow light, as this, according to studies at the time, was less dazzling than white light. It happened that both French and imported vehicles could have colorless glasses with yellow light bulbs instead of yellow headlights. The uniform definition of the yellowish color was given in ECE regulation No. 19 for fog lights, referred to there as " Selective Yellow ".

In France they stayed with the yellow vehicle headlights for a long time, as the disadvantage of the somewhat lower light output was offset by some advantages of the long-wave yellow light. a. the less glare of oncoming traffic, the reduction in the risk of accidents with wildlife, since animals do not freeze in the headlights but flee, as well as better perception of contours and potholes in the roadway and better visibility in rain and fog. In the course of harmonization within the EU, however, France switched to white front lighting from January 1, 1993. The yellow headlights in road traffic meant that locomotives with only two - instead of the internationally usual three - front lights were used in rail transport in France; Since the railway was driven with white front lighting, it was not possible to mix it up. Yellow headlights have practically completely disappeared from the street scene in France, but are still permitted.

Various old regulations are still in force in Germany. For example, a vehicle that was first registered before 1970 may have red indicators, with its first registration before 1983 the indicator has a double function as a brake light, i.e. a yellow brake light, and with the first registration before 1974 may have a winker instead of an indicator. Daytime running lights are mandatory for vehicles registered after 2011 . There is an obligation to retrofit hazard warning lights for every year of construction.

Specialist literature

Individual evidence

  1. 76/756 / EEC in connection with ECE-R48
  2. ^ Charles J. Kahane: An Evaluation of Side Marker Lamps For Cars, Trucks, and Buses . In: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (ed.): DOT HS 806 430 . Washington, DC July 1983 ( [accessed July 18, 2009]).
  3. UN Regulation 48, "Installation of lighting and light-signaling devices on motor vehicles", Revision 6
  4. UN Regulation 119, "Cornering lamps for power-driven vehicles"
  5. Contracting parties - list of key figures . ( Memento of the original from July 1, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: Website of the Federal Ministry for Transport, Building and Urban Development , accessed on December 20, 2012. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  6. ^ Daniel J. Stern: What is Selective-Yellow Light? November 14, 2014, accessed August 28, 2015 .
  7. Bernard Fournol: 20 ans déjà: Adieu phares jaunes et noires plaques. Retrieved June 7, 2013 (French).
  8. Bernard Fournol: La vie en jaune. Retrieved June 7, 2013 (French).
  9. Equipment according to StVZO: What was mandatory from when? ADAC info sheet 26592 available on request

See also

Web links

Commons : Vehicle lighting  - collection of images, videos and audio files