At the moment, there are two brand-new vehicles sitting in my driveway. They are made by the same manufacturer though they are two different models. There is about $5,000 difference in their price, which is mostly made up by the navigation system, leather seats and backup camera that one of them sports. Both have scored impressively on safety ratings, and are well rated in their categories.
So why does only one of them have its rear lights come on with the daytime running lights?
It’s usually the approach of wint er’s darkening days that force this problem to the fore, but the extreme rainfall we had recently reinforced the problem. On too many cars, unless the headlight setting is set to automatic, drivers mistake daytime running lights for headlights and fail to realize they are invisible from the rear. It’s a combination of errors that create this: dashboard lights are on, daytime running lights are on, and drivers head into dusk or deteriorating weather unaware their rear lights remain dark.
Daytime running lights were made mandatory on all cars sold in or imported to Canada as of Jan. 1, 1990. While this means nearly all cars will have daytime running lights regardless of the setting of the headlight switch, for too many the lights must be set on automatic to have the corresponding rear lights come on.
It’s not just the occasional car; you can rapidly give up counting how many cars you see doing this, and it crosses most manufacturers, many different models, and different years within those models. There is little congruity, which makes the problem that much worse. I can’t just give you a tidy list of offenders without leaving some out; I’ve tried.
Many of you will dismiss this concern; you know your car, maybe you’re tired of hearing me or my colleagues go on about it. But driving every day reveals far too many people who are oblivious, and that makes it everyone’s problem. What about others who drive your car? What about when you’re in a rental? What if someone else has messed with your settings, and you don’t happen to check?
There are some who argue daytime running lights are some combination of nuisance/danger/waste. Numerous studies have proven – especially in the northern hemisphere – that they save lives. But if they are going to make them mandatory, why mandate only half a solution that by its very nature creates another problem?
Is it too much to ask of drivers to set their headlight system to automatic? Apparently it is. Is this driver error? Of course. But if we have amazing (and costly) safety systems that will allow you to survive what even a few years ago would have been a fatal crash, why can’t all manufacturers get their act together and tether the lighting systems in all their vehicles?
I’ve had people say they were embarrassed to discover their lights weren’t set in automatic; if the dash remained dark, you’d at least have an immediate clue that you were messing up. When you buy a new car, most salespeople will go over these details with you, but the process can be overwhelming. You are absorbing a great deal of information at once, and things you take for granted tend to slide off the radar. Driving instructors go over this, too, but when was the last time most people took driver’s ed?
I drove from Burlington to Toronto in that driving rain. I counted more than 40 cars with no rear lights on before I quit. For some it might have been a onetime oversight, but I doubt it. Forgive the harshness, but I find too many people don’t consider driving a demanding exercise that deserves full attention. Your car can only save you from so much, and those oversights and distractions cost all of us dearly, every day. It’s great that I have a better chance of surviving a collision than ever before, but frankly, I’d rather avoid that collision all together.
It’s easy to check if your car is one of the offenders. Hop out after you start it up after dark and take a look. No rear lights, you must put it on the automatic setting because it’s not doing it for you. Most cars can be left in the automatic setting all the time, and if they can’t, you’ll hear the chime. Please take a moment to check your own vehicle, and those of the people you care about.
We should be requiring consistency of the automobile manufacturers. I’m not a huge fan of legislation that should be unnecessary because of common sense; but if they won’t do it voluntarily, then it should be enacted in law.