Is it illegal to drive with the interior lights on?
No, it's not illegal to drive with your interior lights on as there's no legislation mandating whether people can, or cannot, legally drive with interior lighting.
However, by illuminating the interior of the car you are making it much harder to see outside. This is where the police will have an issue with you, as this then makes it dangerous for other drivers around you as you’re limiting your vision and increasing the risk of a crash.
To be perfectly clear, using one of the manufacturer’s own map lights is not such a big deal (though it will still cut down on external vision slightly). These lamps have been included in cars since the 1960s to aid passengers looking at printed road maps as they helped navigate, and to fascinate children as to the mysterious origins of these tiny circular lights.
The real issue is with the large cabin lights, which generally automatically operate when a door or tailgate is open. These lights are designed to illuminate the entire cabin to make it easier and safer to enter or exit the vehicle at night, or in low-light conditions.
They are not designed to be used while driving as they reflect off the interior surfaces, cutting exterior vision and causing your eyes to focus on the bright light inside the car (rather than the dark area outside the car, which is where you should be concentrating).
If a police officer sees you driving along lit up like Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve, they could potentially fine you a few different ways. The way the Australian road laws are written a policeman (or woman) has the power to fine you if they believe you are not in full control of your vehicle, or are driving in a manner they believe to be dangerous to other road users. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
As they have been trained in road safety, high-performance driving, and more, it is generally accepted by courts in Australia that a police officer holds the experience and knowledge to make judgement calls in these areas.
They’re also normally the ones who have to respond to horrific crashes involving people who have made mistakes that cost them and other innocent people their lives, so they take this seriously as nobody ever wants the three o’clock knock.
So, unless you have the superhuman power of 20-20 night vision, leave the interior light off while driving at night or low-light situations.
This article is not intended as legal advice. You should check with your local road authority to verify the information written here is suitable to your situation before driving in this manner.