Motor Vehicle Lighting Laws in Ontario, Canada

Let’s explore a popular, but often not well understood, aspect of Ontario Traffic Law: vehicle lighting.  The Highway Traffic Act contains a number of provisions requiring or prohibiting and restricting certain types of lights on vehicles being operated on the roadways.  Commercial vehicles are subject to a considerable amount of additional requirements, but for the purpose of this article we will not be dealing with those regulations.

Most of the regulations dealing with lights are found in Section 62 of the Highway Traffic Act1, with some additional ones being found in the Ontario Regulations2.  According to the Act, lights are required from one half hour before sunset to one half hour after sunrise, or at any time when atmospheric conditions prevent vehicles or persons being clearly seen at a distance of 150 meters.

First let’s discuss the required lights.  All motor vehicles are required to have a minimum of two and a maximum of four white or amber lights to the front and a minimum of one red light to the rear.  Of course most motor vehicles are manufactured with at least two red lights to the rear, and this is why it is not an offence to have one of the rear running lights out.  It is, however, an offence to have one of the headlights out, since both are required.  Motorcycles require only one white or amber light to the front and one red to the rear.  It is an offence for them to be missing either.  Further to this, headlights must be capable of operating in both a high and low beam capacity.  A specific licence plate light (white only) is also required to illuminate the rear licence plate.

Now we will discuss the prohibited and restricted lights.  Lights are prohibited or restricted based on their combination and/or the direction they are visible from.  Flashing red lights, visible from any direction on a vehicle, are restricted to law enforcement vehicles only.  This restriction does not include four way flashers or tapping the brake pedal to produce an on and off effect with the brake lights.  In addition to this, red lights and red and blue combinations of lights to the front are also restricted to law enforcement vehicles.  Flashing blue lights are restricted to police vehicles and snow removal vehicles, but only while they are actually engaged in the removal of snow (or de-icing, etc.).  Flashing green lights are restricted to volunteer firefighters.

The Highway Traffic Act says nothing specific about under carriage neon lighting, nor about any other specific colours than those mentioned above, so, as long as they conform to the above specifications, they should, in theory, be permitted.  One thing to be aware of with respect to under carriage lighting is that a red light may cast a glow around the vehicle that is visible from the front of the vehicle, even though the light is not specifically positioned on the front of the vehicle.

Of course these sections are always open to interpretation by police officers laying charges and ultimately by a Justice of the Peace who determine guilt.  Think carefully about how you can articulate your actions in light of the relevant legislation before making any aftermarket modifications to your vehicle’s lighting.

Article by: Simon Borys