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Neon "Underglow" Lighting Laws

Neon or "underglow" car lights can be eye-catching and even 'cool,' but you'll need to check with the laws of your particular state to find out if having them are legal.

Neon car lights, also referred to as "underglow" lights, are non-standard neon or LED lights that attach to the under body of a car, truck, or motorcycle. Neon underglow lights are especially popular among aftermarket car dealers and owners seeking to enhance the look of a car, among other things. Some people believe that neon underglow lights provide a good-looking safety feature, especially among motorcycle riders who drive at night, by helping them worry less about getting hit by other vehicles. Most people who use neon underglow lights, however, cite the "cool factor," and believe that underglow lights help create a halo effect making the car appear as though it is floating.

Laws concerning the use of neon underglow lights are typically covered under the lighting requirements of state traffic laws or motor vehicle codes. Most states have specific laws concerning restrictions on the use of accent lighting and other unlawful vehicle modifications, in terms of color, form, type, and location on the vehicle. As a general principle, underglow lights are legal so long as they remain covered and unlit on public roads and do not flash or include the colors red or blue.

Because the laws on underglow lights vary greatly by state, drivers looking to add underglow lights should first check under the unlawful vehicle modification laws of their particular state to avoid potential warnings and penalties.

Neon Underglow Lighting Laws: The Basics

Neon underglow lighting laws are called by many names. Some of the legal titles that cover the use of neon underglow lights and other lighting modifications may fall under any of the following titles:

  • After-Market Lighting;
  • Vehicle Equipment Regulations;
  • Ground-Effect Lighting;
  • Lighting Equipment, or simply "Equipment";
  • Lighting Reflectors; and
  • Vehicle Accessory Specifications.

Neon underglow lighting laws exist to help keep the highways safe, and drivers free from distractions that may lead to hazardous driving conditions or situations that disturb the peace. For safety or other emergency reasons, the laws generally restrict the color and type of neon accent lights a driver may add to a car. While yellow and amber neon lights are generally accepted in most places, red and blue lights are often restricted because of its common use on police cars.

Similarly, lights that flash or blink are also restricted based on their common association with ambulances and other emergency safety vehicles. Therefore, these limits are placed on car modifications to prevent other drivers on the road from getting confused or distracted.

Specific State Law Examples

Some states like California, Kansas, and Arizona, allow the use of neon underglow car lights with restrictions on a particular color and location. For instance, Arizona traffic laws only allow amber or white lights (without glare) on the side portions of a car. Kansas traffic laws allow the use of neon ground lighting on vehicles, except for flashing or red lights, or where the tube is visible.

Other states, like Michigan, do not allow the use of any color of flashing, oscillating, or rotating lights on the body of a car being driven on public highways that is not expressly required or permitted under the Michigan traffic laws, except for emergency and other vehicles.

And even some states, like South Carolina, do not allow you to have any red, blue, or flashing lights anywhere on your vehicle, whether visible or not.

Penalties for Neon Underglow Lights Violations

A neon underglow lighting law violation is considered a civil infraction, punishable as a non-moving traffic violation. Non-moving traffic violations are heard by a district judge or magistrate in a district court close to where the infraction occurred.

Under traffic laws in most states, drivers may be given a ticket for modifying a car in violation of the state's traffic and vehicle modifications laws. In most cases, this will be in the form of a "fix-it" ticket. A driver would have the opportunity to correct or remove the violation by a showing to a police officer or motor vehicle department that the issue was fixed.

Otherwise, a driver who has received a civil infraction ticket may typically respond by any of the following ways:

  • Admit responsibility and pay the fine indicated;
  • Admit responsibility with an explanation and pay the fine indicated;
  • Deny responsibility and ask for an informal court hearing to explain to a judge the circumstances (without attorney representation);
  • Deny responsibility and ask for a formal hearing where a prosecutor will have to show the person violated a law or ordinance (with an attorney to represent you).

Failing to respond to a ticket may result in a default judgment that might lead to additional fines, costs, and fees, or even a suspended license,

Talk to an Attorney About Neon Underglow Lighting Laws in Your State

The possibilities are endless when it comes to 'tricking' out your ride with neon underglow lights. However, if you want to avoid having to pay fines or getting a suspended license, you should check the neon underglow lighting laws of your particular state. While many states allow for some type of illumination on vehicles, there are many specific rules that may or may not apply to neon underglow lights in your case.

Maybe you're planning to detail your new ride or need to defend against a ticket for underglow writing -- either way, you may want to speak with a traffic ticket attorney if you have additional questions about the respective laws in your area.  

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