This study presents an effective system for detecting and tracking moving vehicles in nighttime traffic scene for traffic surveillance. The proposed method identifies vehicles based on detecting and locating vehicle headlights and taillights by using the techniques of image segmentation and pattern analysis. First, to effectively extract bright objects of interest, a fast bright-object segmentation process based on automatic multilevel histogram thresholding is applied on the nighttime road-scene images. This automatic multilevel thresholding approach can provide robustness and adaptability for the detection system to be operated well under various illumination conditions at night. The extracted bright objects are processed by a spatial clustering and tracking procedure by locating and analyzing the spatial and temporal features of vehicle light patterns, and then identifying and classifying the moving cars and motorbikes in the traffic scenes. Experimental results demonstrate that the proposed approach is feasible and effective for vehicle detection and identification in various nighttime environments for traffic surveillance.