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Compliance MythBuster, Part 6 – When Must Tractor and/or Trailer Lights Work?

This is the sixth installment of DriverReach’s blog series aimed at accurately communicating driver and fleet-related requirements, typically governed by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) safety rules. The idea is to dispel some common industry myths or misconceptions. This installment tackles two vehicle maintenance related myths in one.

The Compliance Myth: When hooked to a trailer, you can’t be cited for your rear tractor lights not working as long as your rear trailer lights are operational.

The Facts: This myth is so common because it's logical. The rear lights perform an important safety function by making the vehicle more visible to those traveling around it. It logically follows then, that if the rear trailer lights are working, the tractor-trailer combination is easy to see and therefore compliant. 

Sadly, this is not true. 49 CFR §393.11(a)(1) makes clear that all vehicles manufactured after December 25, 1968 must meet the lamp and reflective marking requirements, which includes the tractor. Table 1 in the rules details all of the lighting and reflector requirements.

Keep in mind, though, that if your rear tractor lights are not working and you’re hooked to a trailer, you shouldn’t be placed out of service for the violation. CVSA’s North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria make clear that a vehicle should only be placed out-of-service if the tail lamp on “the rear of the rearmost vehicle” isn’t working.

Bonus! Another Lighting Compliance Myth: If you have a light on your tractor, it needs to work, otherwise it’s a violation. This myth is often cited when someone spots a truck lit up like a Christmas tree driving down the road.

The Facts: The same table, mentioned above, details which specific lights are required. If you have a light on your truck that isn’t listed in the table, it is not required and you should not be cited for a violation. 

Stay up to date on CDL trucking trends! Be sure to check out the DriverReach blog for other relevant articles and head over to our webinars page for an up-to-date list of upcoming events and on-demand recordings.

Listen to Taking the Hire Road podcast, hosted by Jeremy Reymer and in collaboration with FreightWaves, for timely conversations with industry experts. For more information, or to join a live group demo, visit


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