Parking lights: What are they and when should you use them?

Last updated December 5th, 2022

Parking lights (sometimes referred to as sidelights) are the small lights located at the front of your car. Generally built into the same cluster of lights as your dipped and main beams, parking lights are sometimes overlooked.

However, it’s very important that you know how to use them correctly; this is a part of the Highway Code. In this guide, we will cover where you are required to use parking lights and where to find them. We’ll also explain the laws surrounding parking light usage - and why they are in place.

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When must you use parking lights?

All drivers must use their parking lights when parked on a road (or in a lay-by on a road) with a speed limit above 30mph, as outlined in the Highway Code.

You don’t need to use parking lights when parking on roads with a speed limit below 30mph if:

  • You are in a designated parking space or lay-by.
  • You are parked close to the kerb, at least 10 metres (32 feet) from any junction and are facing the direction of the traffic flow.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules – for example, if it’s foggy or visibility is low, you are expected to switch your parking lights on regardless. You even want to consider switching on your fog lights.

Parking lights vs. headlights: What’s the difference?

Parking lights are designed to make your car visible to other drivers when you are parked; they aren’t intended to provide light for driving in the dark (and are not bright enough to do so). When driving, you should use dipped beam headlights, as these are designed to light the road ahead for you.

How do you turn on parking lights?

Most cars use the same control for both parking lights and sidelights; this is usually a small dial or switch to the side of your steering wheel. The most universally recognised dashboard symbol for parking lights is two semi-circle shapes facing in opposite directions, surrounded by three lines (symbolising light) on either side.

Parking light symbol

If your car uses automatic headlights, keep in mind that these do not control the parking lights, so you’ll need to set them yourself.

What is considered a parking bay?

According to the Highway Code, a recognised parking bay is indicated by the use of white lines. Unfortunately, these aren’t typically found in residential areas, where you’ll need to meet certain other criteria to be able to park without the use of parking lights:

  • The speed limit of the road you are parking on must be below 30mph.
  • Your car must be parked facing the same direction as the flow of traffic.
  • You must be parked close to the kerb.
  • You must be at least 32 feet (10 metres) away from any junction.

Providing you follow these rules, you can park a car, van, or motorcycle in a residential area with the parking lights switched off.

How often are parking light laws enforced?

Whilst the use of car parking lights is seen as a legal grey area by some, the laws surrounding parking lights should be followed at all times – they are there for the safety of drivers, after all.

If you are caught breaking these laws, which are outlined in the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations (1989), you can be fined anywhere between £35 and £75 (to be paid within 14 days).

Why is it rare to see parked cars with their lights on?

All things considered, the laws surrounding parking lights apply to a surprisingly small percentage of roads. This is especially true in residential areas, where roads with a speed limit exceeding 30mph are fairly uncommon.

However, familiarising yourself with these laws is crucial, in the interest of safety - and ensuring you are driving and parking legally at all times.

Frequently Asked Questions

In most cars, the symbol for parking lights is two semi-circles facing in opposite directions, with each side surrounded by three short lines to symbolise beams of light.

Parking lights are sometimes also referred to as sidelights. They are usually located at the front of your car, within the same cluster of lighting as your main and dipped headlights.

You should never attempt to use your parking lights when driving, as they do not provide anywhere near enough light for driving in the dark.

Parking lights are designed to be left on for long periods and operate on a low wattage. This means that you are unlikely to get a flat battery from the use of parking lights, even if they are left on overnight.

Parking lights are generally the same colour as your headlights. Depending on the make and model of vehicle you drive, this is usually somewhere between a bright white and a warm yellow colour.

For a vehicle to pass an MOT, all its lights must be in good working order. This means that if your car parking lights are faulty in any way, your car will likely fail its MOT.

If you are considering selling your car, whether on the private market, to a dealership, or to a car buying service such as webuyanycar, we would recommend getting any broken or faulty parking lights fixed before putting it up for sale.

Broken lights may adversely affect your car’s resale value – even if it has a valid MOT certificate. A reputable mechanic should be able to fix them quickly and at a reasonable cost. To find out how much your car might be worth with working parking lights, use our free car valuation tool.

If your parking lights are on and the switch is definitely in the ‘off’ position, you should consult a mechanic. This could be a sign of anything from a broken switch to a faulty fuse, so it’s best to have a professional find and fix the problem.