Q: Is it illegal to drive with your interior dome light on? - my editor (and many other people, apparently)
A: This is the kind of question many people think they’ve known the answer to their whole life, only to read on some myth-busting website that they were most likely wrong (obviously, laws vary from state to state, so this could depend on where you grew up).
When it comes to the question of the dome light, it seems people fall into two camps: You either grew up as the backseat reader on long road trips whose mom or dad would yell at you when you tried to turn the dome light on, threatening that the cops would pull the car over if you did, or ... you didn’t. And you are now a happy, well-adjusted adult, confident in the fact that your parents never lied to you about the law.
Not to rip open any childhood wounds, or anything.
According to a thorough search of the state’s laws on vehicle lighting, and research from Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol and Officer Loretta Cool of the Tacoma Police Department, there is no law on the books in Washington that says it’s illegal to drive with the interior dome light on.
That said, it can be super distracting to have that light on while driving at night, and that’s most likely why our parents would bark at us to turn it off. It creates a terrible glare and makes it hard to see what’s happening outside the vehicle.
I’m not saying your parents lied to you. Maybe they genuinely thought it was illegal. Maybe it even was illegal at one time.
Either way, as far as several very astute law enforcement officers have told me, it’s not illegal in Washington today.
There is a potential caveat to that if you drive a pickup truck, says Trooper Russ Winger of the Washington State Patrol. In many pickup models, turning on the dome light also illuminates a white light in the back of the truck that floods the truck bed. That’s illegal, Winger said. You’re not allowed to have a white light illuminated on the rear of your vehicle while it’s moving unless you’re in reverse.
“If the bright light is visible in the back of the truck, you can get a ticket for that,” Winger said. “If they don’t have a canopy on, you can see the light on the back that shines into the bed and that cannot be on, so that would make it illegal to be driving with that on with your dome light on.”
The potential fine for driving with a white light shining to the rear of your vehicle is $136, Winger said.