NH Law About... Motor Vehicle Lights

Introduction to... Motor Vehicle Lights

Updated June 26, 2017.

A caller to the law library asked why she couldn't have colored headlights on her car and that question led to the creation of this research guide. Then, just recently we were asked about the use of red lights on the personal vehicles of fire personnel. 

To answer these questions, you need to look at New Hampshire statutes, administrative rules, and local or federal departmental policies. RSA 266, Equipment of Vehicles, contains many sections relating to what types of lighting equipment various vehicle types must have and when they can be used. Examples are: use of blue lights is restricted to law enforcement and emergency response (RSA 266:78-b), use of red lights is restricted to police, fire and rescue (RSA 266:78-c), when law enforcement (RSA 266:78-f) and fire, rescue, and emergency personnel (RSA 266:78-g) should use their emergency lights, use of amber warning lights (RSA 266:78-h), use of wing lights on snow plows (RSA 266:78-j), lighting for school buses (RSA 266:39), purple lights are for funeral processions (RSA 266:78-m), type of lighting for parade use (RSA 266:78-n), and special wrecker lighting (RSA 266:109).

The administrative rules from the New Hampshire Department of Safety, Saf-C 3215 and 3216, give more detail on the type of lighting equipment each vehicle must have. Fog lamps on school buses (Saf-C 1313.09); how many fog lamps a vehicle may have (Saf-C 3215.05), and more detail about what color emergency lights can be and who can use them (Saf-C 3215.02) are some of the topics covered in regulations.

"Departmental policies" refers to the question about red lights on privately-owned vehicles. RSA 266:78-c, II  says that red lights are authorized for privately-owned vehicles of "full-time or volunteer firefighters employed by municipal, village district, or federal fire departments and forestry departments or forest fire wardens and deputy wardens when authorized by their department heads."

The statutes and regulations use the words "lamps" and "lights" interchangeably. (Perhaps the word “lamp” harkens back to the days of horseless carriages?) Because of this, the print index to the statutes may be more helpful than keyword searching online. Look under the term “motor vehicles” and then for the subdivision “Lights and Lighting.”  Once you get to the appropriate RSA chapter, look at the beginning of the chapter which gives a list of subdivisions and shows you the context of all of the statutes in that section.

If you needed a reason to keep headlights, tail lights, etc. in good working order, the NH Dept. of Safety website linked to below may give it to you. Among other things, the website lists cases in which problems with vehicle lighting were used as justification for a stop.

Please remember that this guide is for information purposes only and is not comprehensive. It is intended as a starting point for research, to illustrate the various sources of the law, and to provide guidance in their use. NH Law About ... is not a substitute for the services of an attorney. 

Read about... Motor Vehicle Lights


New Hampshire. Dept. of Safety. Compendium: Superior Court Cases. Issues Regarding Various Grounds for Stop  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017


61 A.L.R.3d 13 (1975). Liability or Recovery in Automobile Negligence Actions as Affected by Absence or Insufficiency of Lights on Parked or Standing Motor Vehicle  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

62 A.L.R.3d 771 (1975). Liability or Recovery in Automobile Negligence Action Arising out of a Collision or Upset as Affected by Operation of Vehicle Without or with Improper Taillights or Rear Reflectors.  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

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Read the law about... Motor Vehicle Lights


RSA 266. Equipment of Vehicles  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Find it in a Library ... New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated

Link verified on: June 29, 2018

Find the New Hampshire statutes in print at libraries throughout the state.   GO>

Learn About New Hampshire Statutes: New Hampshire statutes are the laws of the State of New Hampshire as enacted by the New Hampshire General Court. GO>


Saf-C 1313. Optional Equipment  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Saf-C 3215. Official Motor Vehicle Inspection Requirements. Lights and Lighting  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Saf-C 3216. Official Motor Vehicle Inspection Requirements. Headlamp Aim  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Saf-C 3223. Agricultural Vehicles  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Find it in a Library ... Code of New Hampshire Rules  GO>

Link verified on: June 26, 2017


Wikipedia. Automotive Lighting

Link verified on: June 26, 2017

Although this Wikipedia entry does not focus on New Hampshire law, it does provide background information, giving an interesting and detailed discussion of many aspects of automotive lighting from an international perspective. Topics discussed include history, color of lighting, forward illumination, conspicuity, signal and identification lights (front, lateral, rear, large vehicles, emergency vehicles, retroreflectors, experimental systems and research and development), convenience lights, on service vehicles, many footnote references, many photos, and external links.   GO>

New Hampshire Law Library

Link verified on: June 29, 2018

The state's only public law library. Call, email, or visit, we'll be happy to help.   GO>

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