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How Many Brake Lights Are Required in California?

How Many Brake Lights Are Required in California?

Brake lights are essential in California while driving in sunlight or at night. It indicates to other drivers that you are slowing down or going to stop, and they should act accordingly.

How Many Brake Lights Are Required in California? California vehicle codes require you to have 2 working brake lights on the rear left and right and a 3rd supplemental light on the back window. They should have red color for all vehicles manufactured after 1979 and be visible at a distance of 300 to 500 feet from the rear. Furthermore, their height from the road surface should be within the range of 15 to 72 inches and symmetrical around the vertical centerline. All vehicles after 1987 have to follow the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No.108 for brake lights.

This article will guide you regarding California Vehicle Codes (CVC) related to brake lamps.

We will explain different requirements in the law regarding color, height, and the number of stop lamps on your vehicle. 

Number of brake lights required in California

There are specific vehicle codes governing the lighting requirements for your vehicle. According to the state laws, a minimum of 2 brake lights are required in California.

Furthermore, there is a distinction that one should be on the rear left and the other on the right. According to federal regulations, there is also a requirement for 3rd light in the center, but in most cases, it is optional.

These requirements ensure safety and intimate the vehicles behind you to slow down when you apply brakes.

Proper working of both of these lights is crucial to prevent any accident or collision of vehicles with each other.

This requirement applies to all passenger vehicles, including cars and SUVs. Moreover, the same is also valid for pickup trucks.

Do you need a third brake light in California?

There is no requirement for a 3rd brake light in the local vehicle code for California state.

However, there has been a law from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since September 1985 to have all cars fitted with 3rd brake lights.

The same rule is also applicable for trucks and SUVs from September 1993-onwards. It is a federal law, and all states are bound to follow it.

However, it can happen that with left and right lights working fine, cops may not stop you and ask you for the necessary installation or give you a ticket.

Therefore, despite not being explicitly mentioned in the state laws, the fact is that it is a requirement to have a 3rd brake light in California.

What is the law regarding brake lights in California?

Sections 24250 and 24252 in the California Vehicle codes are regarding maintaining all lighting equipment in working condition and the required voltage for all bulbs.

However, CVC 24603 is specific regarding the stop lamps. It mandates the requirement of 2 working stop lamps of red color on the left and rear side of the vehicle and a high-mounted lamp in the center.

It also defines the visibility of the brake lights at a specific distance of 300-500ft.

It also instructs all vehicles after 1987 to comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 regarding the use and installation of stop lamps.

What is Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No.108 for brake lights?

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108 is related to OEM lamps, reflectors, and other related equipment on your vehicle and is applicable across the US.

It covers all vehicles, including cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, trailers, and buses. For the stop lights, it clearly states to have 2 of them installed with specific visibility, color, and height requirements.

One should be present on the left, the other on the right, and both on the same height level.

Moreover, it has a further specification for a high-mounted stop lamp on passenger cars manufactured after September 1, 1985.

SUVs and trucks manufactured after September 1, 1993, with a width less than 80-inches and GVWR equal to 10,000 lbs or less, should also have the high mounted stop lamp on the rear window.

Furthermore, if the vertical centerline of the trucks and SUVs is not on a fixed panel and has 2 body sections, then you should install 2 high-mounted brake lights on each of them to fulfill the requirements.

What are the consequences of driving with a faulty brake light?

Its purpose is to signal to the drivers behind you that you will stop or slow down.

They activate when you apply brakes or the car faces a sudden jerk due to the sudden release of pressure from the accelerator.

If you drive with faulty brake lights, other drivers will not get any indication while you apply brakes. As a result, any fast-moving vehicles behind you can collide with your car.

Moreover, you can get a ticket for violating traffic laws. Sometimes, police officers can let you go without any fines.

However, if any accident occurs due to faulty lights, you can get severe punishment and a heavy penalty for violating the laws.

Is a high mount brake light on the rear window mandatory in California?

It is a federal law to have all passenger cars manufactured after 1986 installed with a 3rd brake light that should be mounted on the rear window.

The same applies to trucks and SUVs of specific size and weight after 1994. In addition, vehicle codes bind all vehicle owners to follow the FMVSS 108 regarding all kinds of vehicle lights.

Therefore, installing the high-mounted stop light on your vehicle beside the left and right brake lights is recommended.

What should be the minimum distance for visibility of brake lights in California?

According to state laws, all stop lights should be clearly visible from 300 feet to the traffic behind you.

It is valid for both day and night, regardless of sunlight or darkness. However, larger vehicles with clearance markers are required to be visible from the backside at a distance of 500 feet.

Therefore, you should regularly inspect these lights and clean them as the accumulation of dirt and dust can limit their visibility up to the recommended distance.

Is an inspection of brake lights a part of driving tests in California?

There is an inspection list for drivers to complete before going for a driving test. It includes brake lights besides other safety-related items.

The rear window light in the center is optional for this checklist and is not mandatory to pass the driving test.

However, you have to identify their location and demonstrate their function. Moreover, both of them should be operational; otherwise, you will not qualify for the test.

It indicates that your vehicle should have working brake lights to pass the criteria, and you should locate and explain their function to proceed with the test.

Can you drive with one working brake light in California?

According to law, you should have a minimum of 2 brake lights on your vehicle’s rear left and right sides.

Therefore, it is illegal to drive with one working stop lamp only. Therefore, police officers can stop you if you have one of them broken or non-functional due to other faults.

However, in most cases, they let the people go with a warning to repair it. Then, they can ask you to appear at the police station to approve the repair work.

However, that will not always be the case, and some other police officer can give you a ticket as it violates traffic codes.

Therefore, it is safe to inspect these before traveling. Furthermore, it will allow you to repair them as soon as possible in case of any fault to avoid any inconvenience or trouble.

Are brake lights the same as tail lights?

Brake or stop lights have a different function than taillights. Taillights activate with headlights or while you actuate the parking brakes.

In comparison, brake lights turn ON when the driver applies pressure on the brake pedal.

Moreover, there is also a difference in the intensity of the light emitted for both. These emit more light to be visible to the traffic behind you and prevent any collision.

In most vehicles, both lights can be part of the same assembly with different bulbs or filaments. Therefore, the wiring connection and fuse will be separate according to their activation mechanism.

Are flashing brake lights legal in California?

California Vehicle Code (CVC) 25250 prohibits the use of flashing brake lights on your vehicle until you have permission under certain conditions.

It can be misleading for drivers coming behind you, and there are chances of any mishap.

Therefore, you can flash your stop lights during emergency conditions or specific scenarios mentioned in CVC 25250.

Moreover, you can switch them at a frequency that is not more than 4 times in 4 seconds.

If you try to use strobing or rapidly flashing lights to produce more visualization, it is illegal. You can use high-intensity lamps to achieve the same effect without violating the law.

Color requirements of brake lights in California

According to state and federal laws for road safety, it is a mandatory requirement to have red-colored brake or stop lamps.

It is valid for vehicles including passenger cars, SUVs, trucks, and buses manufactured after 1979. Vehicles before 1979 could use either red or yellow lights as stop lamps.

The logic behind the color selection is the better visibility of red from a distance. Moreover, the red color also has a use as a warning sign, and also it is a universal standard in traffic signals to stop vehicles.

Therefore, you cannot use yellow or any other fancy colors for these lights. However, you have the choice to use different shades of red by varying its hue component.

What should be the height of brake lights according to the California vehicle code?

According to CVC, both rear lights should be at the same height and as far as possible from each other.

Moreover, stop lamps on all vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs, and trucks, should be installed at a height between 15 inches to 72 inches from the road surface in unloaded conditions.

Moreover, both should be symmetrical around the vertical centerline on the rear side. Its purpose is to prevent any deception to the behind drivers regarding the width of your vehicle.

Finally, according to vehicle types, you should install the 3rd brake light centered on the vertical centerline within 3 to 6 inches below the rear window.

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