Most front running headlights today activate upon ignition as a safety feature. But throughout the 1970s, it was odd to see a driver travelling with headlights illuminated. Professional drivers were often the only ones on the road using this technique - even though drivers who travel with headlights on in daylight hours have fewer crashes.
The federal government made it mandatory in 1990 that all vehicles sold in Canada have headlights that illuminate at all times while on our roadways.
Sadly, our neighbours to the south have never followed suit. Nowadays, when you see approaching vehicles that are not illuminated, they are most likely produced before 1990 or U.S. imports. These vehicles have more crashes than the normally well-lighted vehicles produced after 1990. Watch out for them.
On my last trip over the Malahat, on a foggy, wet day, fully one in 10 drivers failed to have their headlights on. I flashed my high beams at each such vehicle as it approached me. A few drivers got the message, because I saw their tail lights come on as I glanced in my rear-view mirror.
It's important for drivers to use headlights at all times while on the road, regardless of conditions. Approaching drivers not only pay more attention to a well-lit vehicle, they also perceive it to be closer than it is. The brighter the lights, the closer the vehicle appears.
When drivers do not use their headlights, approaching drivers tend not to notice them, concentrating on other oncoming light sources. Researchers believe this is one of the reasons for the higher crash rate for vehicles with headlights that don't illuminate at all times. Vehicle age may also be a factor, as they may not be as well maintained as newer models.
Even if your vehicle does light up upon ignition, it's a good idea to illuminate your tail lights at all times, or at least in foul weather. This will draw additional attention to you and reduce chances of a rear-end collision, the most common on our roads. It's not surprising to see professional drivers use this technique - many pros will simply put the parking lights on to activate the tail lights when the headlight running lights are working.
Some pros who drive older vehicles turn the headlights to the full-on position at all times. This is a behaviour that every driver of a vehicle older than 1990 or manufactured for the American market should emulate, to ensure drivers approaching and following pay more attention to them.
Fog lights should be used by themselves. Having headlights and fog lights on at the same time diminishes the effectiveness of the fog lights. Operating more than one set of front lights is irritating to approaching drivers.
It's a good idea to flash the high beams once to warn oncoming drivers who have both sets of lights operating. Many vehicles do not have a warning dash light to tell a driver that the two sets of front lights are in the on position. It's important, because the lower running lights have a tendency to burn out with overuse.
Driving with both headlights and tail lights illuminated is a good idea. Spread the word and we will all be safer for it.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former vice-president of the Associated Driving Schools of the Americas, and a registered B.C. teacher.
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