“If you’ve driven after dark or on a wet day, you’ve seen it: a car up ahead with no rear lights illuminated, barely visible on the road,” Noel Gibbons, road safety officer with Mayo County Council said.
“Drive up alongside and you’ll see the driver, their face lit by the bright light of the speedometer, probably wondering why you’re staring or even waving at them. The instrument lights are all on, so they assume all the outside lights are on, too.”
‘See and be seen’ when driving in the dark
Gibbons is urging road users to “see and be seen with proper vehicle lights” especially when driving in the dark or in poor weather conditions.
“As of September 1 in Canada, all new vehicles must have both headlights and taillights that turn themselves on at dark and dashboards that stay dark if the headlights are off and road safety professionals are calling for similar requirements in Ireland,” he said.
“This has been an issue for years. Ever since 2011, DLRs [daytime running lights] are mandatory for all new cars and small delivery vans in the EU. Trucks and buses followed in August 2012.
“Vehicles produced before this time don’t have to be retrofitted. When that happened, drivers stopped thinking about their lights because they knew they were taken care of by the computers in their vehicles.
“Not only that, but modern dashboard instrumentation is almost always lit in some way, either as lamps to illuminate analogue gauges or as fully digital displays.
“The intensity of the light can be adjusted to the driver’s preference, but when the headlights are off, because it’s daytime, the intensity is at its strongest to make the gauges clearer.”
‘They assume all the lights are on’
Gibbons said the idea is that when it gets dark, the very bright light from the instrumentation “will remind the driver to turn on the headlights”.
“Many drivers don’t realise this, however, because they just don’t know any better,” he continued.
“They treat their cars as appliances, and they assume all the lights are on. After all, they can probably think they see well enough under the streetlights, although they’re next to invisible to others from behind.
“They are not designed to help drivers see where they are going but are there purely to enable other road users to see the vehicle. This is why they are considerably dimmer than dipped headlights.”
While daytime running lights are “clearly bringing a very valuable safety benefit to Irish roads” Gibbons said, “it would be good for every driver to take just a few minutes to make sure they know whether the vehicles they drive have them or not”.
“And if they do, then check to see if they have them at the rear as well as the front.
“That way those that don’t have them at the back will be far more likely in poor daylight visibility to switch on their dipped lights to make sure their vehicle is more easily seen from behind.
“We strongly urge everyone to carry out this check as those few minutes could make an important road safety difference.”