Use of Cosmetic Vehicle Lighting and Legality of Light Bars in New Zealand

Use of Cosmetic Vehicle Lighting and Light Bars in New Zealand

While we have had plenty of queries about the legality or illegality of whip lights these questions are inevitably followed by questions like What are the rules on Light Bars and headlamps and other Cosmetic lighting in New Zealand? So we’ve decided to expand on this further here.

As a disclaimer this is our understanding of the rules and at the time of publishing this article (Updated July 2023). We do our best to ensure they are accurate and whenever possible we do link directly to the NZTA / Waka Kotahi website or other stories for you to confirm the latest rules. See below.

Throughout New Zealand there are more and more light bars and cosmetic lights seen on 4WD’s, trucks and other vehicles on and off the road.

The rules are different for on-road compared with off-road and on private property.

While the answer is YES, a light bar and cosmetic lighting is legal, it is a bit ‘Grey’. The rules are not clear cut at all and come with restrictions.

Light bars, LED Headlamps and whip lights come under the ‘Cosmetic Lighting’  regulations for NZTA.

    According to NZTA  'It is against the law to use cosmetic lamps in a way that could dazzle, confuse or distract other road users’.
    There legal limits on how many extra lights can be fitted on a vehicle
    There are also limits on where they can be located.
    So what you can do depends on what you already have modified or fitted to your vehicle.

    Cosmetic Lighting Rules:

    • FRONT MOUNTED:   CAN only use the white or amber solid colour at the front.
    • BACK MOUNTED : If mounted at the back of your vehicle they can only be red or Amber.
    • On-road, you can NOT use any other colours or any of the motion, movement or spiraling colour setting modes at all on the front or back. 
    • Any flashing, dazzling or light movement is deemed 'dangerous and distracting' to other drivers and is for Police and Emergency vehicle use only.

    According to the NZTA website, the on-road rules would apply to light bars, spots and whiplights. These specifically state when driving on public roads...

    • They must be angled downwards and fitted so that the light source isn’t directly visible from the front or back of the vehicle (this will prevent the lights distracting, confusing or dazzling other road users).
    • You must not be able to see any red light from directly in front of the vehicle.
    • They should only give off light that is spread out (diffuse) rather than light concentrated in a beam.
    • They must not be positioned close to or covering essential lights such as headlights or indicators.
    • They must not flash, pulse, fade in and out or change colour.
    • They must not revolve, rotate or move in any direction.

    NZTA WOF Regulations for Cosmetic Lighting

    Regulations for WOF compliance are quite specific. Check with your local garage or VTNZ when getting a WOF with your light bar and other attachments on. 

    LED light bars are legal in New Zealand. But like most vehicle modifications there are rules. There are lumen restrictions, so be aware of the latest rules. Light bars can be legally fitted to a vehicle for a WOF provided they are classified as a work lamp and have an independent switch. 

    A typical car headlight in NZ is around 700 lumens and when on high beam the lights are around 1200 lumens. There are light bars available at retailers in New Zealand that are up to 32,000 lumens and described as 'driving around lights' but at these levels they can not be used when driving on a public road.

    There is not a set number of lights are you allowed on a vehicle.  There are however set regulations on how many lights you are allowed based on where they are positioned and how bright they are.  If you have other spot or cosmetic lights already on your vehicle you may need to check to see your total set up is allowed.

    KEY WOF RULES  - Relating to Cosmetic Lighting state you can have:
       - A rear-facing reflector on a vehicle that reflects red or amber when seen directly from the rear.
       - A forward-facing reflector on a vehicle that reflects white light shining on it as anything other than white or amber light.
      - A side-facing reflector on a vehicle reflects white light shining on it as anything other than white or amber light.

    I saw an article on this topic in 'Local Matters' the Rodney District newspaper in 2020 (3/08/2020) It stated:  "NZTA says that light bars can technically be fitted to a vehicle for use as high-beam headlamps while driving on a public road, but most are unlikely to comply with regulations. Light bars are typically a single unit, but to comply with headlamp regulations they need to be fitted as a pair" . The article went on to say. "The light bars would also have to be certified by one of the NZTA’s list of recognised standard authorities, such as the Economic Commission for Europe or the United States Department of Transportation". 

    A local automotive electrician was quoted in the story as saying "Despite being illegal, it is common for drivers to have them wired to their headlights. Light bars are easy to remove from a vehicle for it to get a warrant and can be remounted afterwards".

    Are aftermarket headlights illegal in NZ? 
    Some. According to NZTA  'A complete halogen headlamp unit can be replaced with a complete HID headlamp unit provided that the replacement headlamp unit complies with approved standards'.

    NZTA also states 'HID conversion kits (an HID bulb with a high voltage power unit or 'ballast' which fit into the original headlamp unit in place of the original bulb with no change to the headlamp lens, reflector or housing) are illegal on any vehicle being used on New Zealand roads'. If in doubt, get advice!

    Is it illegal to have underglow lighting in NZ?
    No, cosmetic lights are not banned
    but there are now controls on where they can be fitted to the exterior of vehicles.

    Are blue headlights legal NZ?
    No. The law currently states that no blue or red lights are permitted to show (either front or rear) on public roads in New Zealand, so while you will not be issued a WOF with blue head lights, the WOF inspector has no right to confiscate them from you.

    So there are plenty of factors to take into consideration when planning your lighting fit out.

    If you are at all unclear, or want further information for the latest regulations check out the Waka Kotahi / NZ Transport website for exact rules and regulations on lighting.

    Check out NZTA Rules - Get your lights Right!

    WOF Lighting Rules 2022.

    Feel free to share any other tips, tricks or rules you've learnt in the "Comments" below.

    What ever you own or drive -  Make it distinct and Light it up!

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