Some people like for their vehicles to stand out. Neon “underglow" car lights can be eye-catching, but you should check with the laws of your particular state to find out if they are legal before using them on public roads.
Neon car lights are also called underglow lights or underbody lights. They are non-standard neon or LED lights that attach to the underbody of a car, truck, or motorcycle.
Underglow lights are especially popular among aftermarket car dealers and owners seeking to enhance the look of a vehicle. This enhanced lighting can also provide beneficial safety features.
For example, underglow lighting can increase visibility for motorcycle riders riding at night. However, most underglow lights are installed for aesthetic reasons, as they create a halo effect that can make the car appear as if it is floating.
Laws concerning neon underglow lights are typically covered under the lighting requirements of state traffic laws or motor vehicle codes. Most states have specific laws regarding restrictions on the use of accent lighting and other unlawful vehicle modifications. These laws specify restricted colors, forms, types, and locations of lighting on the vehicle.
Generally, underglow lights are legal as long as they:
- Remain covered and unlit on public roads
- Do not flash
- Do not include the colors red or blue
Because the laws on underglow lights vary by state, you should first check your state's unlawful vehicle modification laws before installing any modified lighting. This will help you avoid potential warnings and penalties.
Neon Underglow Lighting Laws: The Basics
Neon underglow lighting can be covered under different laws. Legal titles that cover underglow lights and other lighting modifications may fall under any of the following titles:
- Aftermarket Lighting
- Vehicle Equipment Regulations
- Ground-Effect Lighting
- Lighting Equipment, or simply Equipment
- Lighting Reflectors
- Vehicle Accessory Specifications
Neon underglow lighting laws help keep public roads safe. They also keep drivers free from distractions that may lead to hazardous or distracted driving. 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 legal in most places, red and blue lights are often restricted because of their common use on police cars and law enforcement vehicles.
Similarly, lights that flash or blink are also restricted based on their common association with ambulances and other emergency vehicles. These limits are placed on car modifications to prevent other drivers from getting confused or distracted.
Specific State Law Examples
Some states like California, Kansas, and Arizona allow 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 ground lighting on vehicles, except for flashing or red lights where the neon tube is visible.
New York permits underglow lighting, but only in the color white. New York traffic law deems that white aftermarket lighting not specifically required by law is legal to use on public roads. However, the lighting cannot be rotating, flashing, oscillating, or otherwise moving.
Some states, like South Carolina, do not allow any red, blue, or flashing lights anywhere on your vehicle, visible or not.
Penalties for Neon Underglow Lights Violations
An underglow lighting law violation is considered a civil infraction. This type of infraction is punishable as a non-moving traffic violation. A district judge or magistrate hears non-moving traffic violations in a district court close to where the infraction occurred.
Under traffic laws in most states, drivers may be issued a citation for an illegal vehicle modification. In most cases, this will be in the form of a "fix-it" ticket. A driver can correct or remove the violation by verifying to a police officer or motor vehicle department that the issue was corrected.
Otherwise, a driver who has received a civil infraction ticket may respond in any of the following ways:
- Admit responsibility and pay the fine
- Admit responsibility with an explanation and pay the fine
- 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 must show the person violated a law or ordinance with an attorney present
Failure to respond to a ticket may result in a default judgment. This can lead to additional fines, fees, or even a suspended driver's license.
Neon Underglow Lights on Private Property
Most state laws do not restrict the use of modified vehicle lighting on private property. However, underglow lights on your own property can still be regulated by laws and ordinances specific to your city, community, or jurisdiction.
Some factors that may influence the legality of vehicle lighting on private property include:
- Zoning and Local Regulations: Many cities and communities have zoning and land use regulations that regulate outdoor lighting, including vehicle lighting. Some areas may have specific rules about the intensity, color, or duration of lighting on private property.
- Nuisance Laws: If your vehicle lighting is overly bright or causes a disturbance to neighbors, they may be subject to nuisance laws. These ordinances vary by municipality.
- Homeowners' Associations (HOAs): If you live in a community governed by an HOA, there may be specific rules and restrictions on vehicle lighting in shared spaces, like a parking lot.
Research and understand the local regulations in your area. You can contact your local government, zoning office, or homeowners' association to ask about specific rules.
It's important to be respectful of your neighbors and community guidelines when using any type of noticeable vehicle lighting. Aftermarket lighting that is overly bright or ostentatious can impact the aesthetics, safety, and the quiet enjoyment of property in your neighborhood.
Failure to comply with local regulations can result in fines or other legal consequences.
Legal Help for Neon Underglow Lighting Laws
It is a good idea to check your state's neon underglow lighting law before making any aftermarket modifications to your vehicle. Some states' Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or Department of Public Safety (DPS) websites provide reliable information on laws and restrictions.
While many states allow for some illumination on vehicles, there are specific rules that may apply to neon underglow lights. If you are planning to add an underglow system or were ticketed for your existing vehicle lighting, you can speak with a traffic ticket attorney in your area. A knowledgeable attorney can provide legal advice and answer your questions about the respective laws in your area. This may help you avoid a costly fine or even a potential license suspension.