Headlight use is not optional

Many drivers forget to turn their headlights on at night. The running lights, particularly in unlit rural areas, give an illusion of the headlights shining brightly.

Streetlights in urban areas create a false sense of visual security. When drivers forget to use the headlight switch, the taillights do not illuminate. This situation causes all sorts of problems. Drivers approaching from behind do not pay as much attention to the vehicle they are following. It is one of the telltale signs that only daylight running lights have been activated. Newer cars have an automatic sensor that turns the headlights on in any dimly lit situation.

Older cars have no such technology. It is easy to get lazy about manually turning the headlights on and off in an older vehicle. Police are often alerted to the drivers who have not turned their headlights on by watching for unlit taillights.

The police also tell me that this is the time of year when they notice a lot of one-lighted cars on the road. It is an offence to drive with only one side of the vehicle lit up. When oncoming drivers can only see one side of a vehicle approaching at night, it creates uncertainty. It is often difficult to see which side of the approaching vehicle is actually lit up. Every professional driver worth his or her salt does a safety inspection every day of vehicle operation. The average driver should do the same. Before I get in my car, I do a walkaround. It is a good idea to check the lights, tires, windows and wipers.

Newer vehicle headlights are of such great quality that they seldom burn out.

That is why it is a surprise to most drivers when headlights fail. It is a good idea to line up your vehicle at a window or some other reflective surface to get a good look at how the lighting system in the vehicle is performing.

Bright lights bother approaching drivers. Most drivers who mistakenly run fog and headlights are not even aware their fog lights are turned on. The switch for fog lights in the late model cars is most often very close to the headlight switch. When fog lights are turned on by mistake and left on for an extended time, they have a tendency to burn out. The cost to replace them is enormous.

When the small icon is seen on the vehicle dash, it means the fog or auxiliary lights are operational.

Because vehicles are so technologically advanced, some drivers think the fog lights will automatically activate. They will not.

Fog lights help to illuminate the road at lower levels without the normal headlight bounce back against the moisture. Never use them in combination with high beams. It defeats the purpose of fog lights.

Vehicles manufactured before 1990 do not light up automatically when they are started. Vehicles imported from the U.S. behave in the same manner. Owners of these types of vehicles are encouraged to always drive with their headlights in the on position. Oncoming traffic seldom pays the same attention to unlit vehicles as they do to vehicles with headlights illuminated. For this reason, older vehicles are involved in a disproportionately high number of vehicle crashes.

Bright lights, if used improperly, are a hazard on our roads. They should be used when appropriate. If you are constantly being high beamed by oncoming vehicles, get your headlights checked. Our vehicle lighting systems are indispensible. Use them as intended.

Drivers on Front Street East near St. Lawrence Market at twilight in Toronto. Lots of drivers forget to turn on their headlamps at dusk.
Photograph by: Kevin Van Paassen, National Post

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.