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Tail lights make you visible from behind not just at night, but also when there’s rain, snow or fog during the day.

As we are required to have daytime running lights in Canada, why are we not also required to have daytime running tail lights? So often (at least half a dozen every time I’m on the highway at night) I spot cars that have the daytime running lights on but no tail lights at all. It can be very dangerous, especially in rainy or snowy conditions, as one cannot see the car in front until right on top of them. With our own Nissan, we often forget to turn on the lights. When the car is started, the dashboard lights up and there is the appearance of headlights reflecting on the car in front. – Shelagh

After three decades, Transport Canada finally saw the light. It was announced early last year that the rules around tail lights would change for new cars starting in 2021, but that doesn’t mean you won’t keep seeing – or, er, not seeing – phantom cars without tail lights at night.

“It’s still a couple of years before it gets implemented and it’s not like every pre-2021 vehicle will be off the road by then,” says Ryan Lemont, manager of driver education with the Alberta Motor Association (AMA). “There will still be plenty of cars that require some sort of intervention from the driver.”

Canada has required front daytime running lights (DRLs) on all vehicles sold since 1989, but it hasn’t required tail lights to come on with them. At the time, studies showed that front headlights reduced daytime crashes because they made vehicles easier to see. But there wasn’t evidence that rear DRLs significantly reduced daytime crashes. DRLs aren’t required at all in the United States.

Years ago, a dark speedometer was a clue that it was time to turn on the lights, but then more cars started to use speedometers that are backlit all the time. That meant drivers lost a key reminder that they were driving with their lights off.

Confusing dashboard symbols don’t always make it easy to tell whether lights are on, either.

Brighter rules?

After years of complaints, Transport Canada is trying to change that. All new cars sold in Canada after September 2021 will require one of three changes meant to keep cars visible from behind at night.

The first option would require tail lights to come on daytime running lights, so cars would always be lit from front and rear.

The second option would require cars to have all lights, including tail lights and side lights, to automatically come on in low light. Automatic lights are something a lot of cars have now, but they’re still often only available on higher trims.

The third option would be to keep dashboards, including the speedometer and all the analog gauges, dark at night until you manually turn the lights on.

While some automakers, including BMW, have already been doing that, more and more speedometers are being replaced by always-on screens.

DYI rear-DRLs?

Tail lights make you visible from behind not just at night, but also when there’s rain, snow or fog during the day.

If your car doesn’t turn on your tail lights for you, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing it yourself by turning on the lights when you get in the car, Lemont says.

If you already have automatic headlights, you need to make sure they’re always in auto mode.

You also need to watch out for other cars who may not realize that their lights are off, especially as days get shorter this time of the year, say Calgary police.

“We do quite often see people who don’t have their lights on, especially in the city where you’ve got street lights,” says Const. Mark Smith, a spokesman with the Calgary Police Service. “We prefer to go the education route where we stop and talk to them.”

If you do see another car with lights off, there’s no surefire way to signal to them other than rolling down your window and actually talking to them.

While you can try to signal them, don’t let yourself get so distracted that you cause a crash. Instead, wait until you’re both stopped at a light. And if they don’t figure it out after a couple of tries, leave it up to the police.

“If you’re flashing your lights, other drivers might not realize what you’re doing and they might take exception,” Smith says. “You’ve got to be careful.”

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