Coloured lights tell us something about vehicles

The right lights

The lights our vehicles are equipped with serve two important functions. They allow us to see and they allow us to be seen by other road users.

The messages conveyed to others by our vehicle's lights must be clear with no opportunity for confusion. This convention is followed worldwide.

For most of us, three colours of lights are allowed to be used on our vehicles. Generally, you will see white and yellow to the front and red to the rear. With the exception of signal and backup lights this is a standard configuration.

The standard allows us to decide which end of a vehicle we are looking at. If we see white and yellow, we should be looking at the front of a vehicle. If red, it should be the rear. If we are looking at the side, the side marker lights allow us to decide if the vehicle is facing to our left or right.

Properly installed clearance and identification lights tell us about a vehicle's dimensional information.

Vehicle lighting standards are set by Transport Canada in the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations. These tell vehicle manufacturers how vehicles that are sold in Canada are to be built. Technical Standard 108 deals with lights, reflectors and associated equipment.

Rather than reading through them to try and determine what you need, Transport Canada has created a visual guide to the requirements:

• Trucks, Buses and Multi-Purpose Vehicles

• Trailers

Cars are similar to trucks but do not require clearance and identification lamps.

Enforcement of the national standards are the responsibility of the provincial governments. In B.C. this is accomplished through Division 4 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations and the Vehicle Inspection Manual used by designated inspection facilities. The manual must be purchased from Crown Publications and may be available to read at your local library.

Lights on a vehicle used as decoration have no place on our highways.

Colours other than white, red and yellow are generally forbidden for most vehicles. All lights must serve the purposes set out in Division 4 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations. These regulations specify colour, placement and lamp type. Anything else may confuse other drivers and confusion could result in a collision.

If you choose to install them, “off-road” lamps—lamps designed for any use other than those specified in Division 4 of these regulations—must be covered by an opaque cover at all times when the vehicle is on the road. This applies if the vehicle is being driven or is parked.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories