autumncommentdave wakefieldfogfoglightsheadlightshighway codewinter

Blindingly simple – or so you’d think.

Well, once again the “season of mists of mellow fruitfulness…blah, blah..” lines are being trotted out as the mercury plummets below effing cold degrees C here in the UK and we road users find ourselves faced once more with that hardy old perennial; namely, foglight abuse.

Yes – as if they needed another excuse to push every single button with the wiggly-line headlight icon stamped on it, the Great British Public now has another tool in the box marked ‘guaranteed to wind up my fellow motorist’ – the box which of course contains such helpful, blood-pressure-raising delights as the badly-adjusted, retina-searing headlight, the billion-watt ‘in-car’ stereo system (see most ‘enhanced’ Saxo VTRs) & of course the magnetic front bumper (Audi/BMW).

It seems increasingly likely that there is some kind of national epidemic triggered by the arrival of the first fog of autumn – the symptoms being an itchy fog-light finger that feels compelled to operate the auxilliary lamps mounted at front & rear of the victim’s vehicle upon the detection of even the slightest gentle mist wafting from a meadow or playing field to within, say a couple of feet of the road. These symptoms manifest themselves quickly, regardless of the severity of the mist/fog cloud & regardless too of the proximity of other road users who then find themselves afflicted with a burning sensation in the eyes caused by bright red or white lights in their field of vision. And, unfortunately, due to the apparent aberration within the sufferer’s brain which causes the activation of what might be mistaken for a mobile tribute to Blackpool at Christmas time, he or she is apparently unable to switch these lights back off with the same haste when the fog recedes or another vehicle is clearly visible within say oh, half a mile.

Takes a breath, slurp of tea and one of those little pink pills the nice doctor said would reduce that twitching vein on the temple.

Suffice it to say then that the misuse of foglights is normally guaranteed to elicit a certain consternation here at Motortalk Towers – this particular outpuring of ire being triggered by the usual commute into West London this morning from the leafy Surrey/Hants countryside where many of the team are based.

The signs weren’t good as the temperature fell like a stone last night and the mist started rolling in to the valley where we live early in the evening – and as I chiselled the ice off the car this morning with the temperature gauge bleating a bracing -2 deg C I just knew that we were in for a dazzling display of motoring ignorance all the way up the A3 & beyond..

And, we weren’t to be disappointed as, joining a busy but flowing A3 south of Guildford there were more than a few vehicles within plain sight of each other with their foglights on front and rear for no apparent reason other than at some point their drivers had experienced fog and had switched them on.
Yes, it was quite foggy in places – particularly in & around the country lanes which link home to the main roads but honestly, not one of the people I found myself driving alongside on the roads this morning could justifiably have claimed that having these extra lights aglow on their vehicle was neccessary – apart, perhaps from the bloke in a Fiesta whose offside headlight had failed; we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt..

Now, don’t get us wrong. Used correctly, foglights are a very effective and worthwhile fitment in a country such as ours with its, er, changeable weather patterns, and an extra bright rear lamp can be a real confidence boost when stopped in fog on a blind bend or travelling slowly on a misty & poorly-lit dual carriageway where distance judgement can be tricky as visibility is dramatically reduced.

In fact, there’s a growing acceptance of the use of – in particular – rear fog lamps in territories where they are not manadatory as they are here in the EU, indeed Mini owners in the ‘States successfully lobbied BMW USA to make them optional on cars sold over there and web forums relating to other models not fitted with the feature as standard regularly feature ‘how to’ instructional posts for those keen to add the functionality to their vehicles.

So, on the whole then, they would seem to be A Good Thing if used correctly & not as an additional piece of posing equipment chosen from the options list (BMW 1 Series owners, you know who we’re talking about here) or as a light-emitting cloak of invincibility which renders the user impervious to danger in foggy conditions.

To that end, perhaps it bears repeating that, according to none other an authority than The Highway Code (last read by approx 99% of drivers the day before they passed their driving test):

“You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.”

And ‘seriously reduced’ is usually taken to mean less than 100 metres, or 328 feet if you can’t get to grips with that new-fangled decimal nonsense.

So, to all those who press every single lighting button on the dashboard, a plea.

Why not take the time to read two quite important pieces of literature?

1) Your vehicle handbook – it’ll be that tatty thing stuffed under the seat, in the glove box or propping up the leg of the dining table which has never been the same since that incident with the gin & the hacksaw.

It’ll tell you all about what those buttons which look like they switch the headlights on actually do & what the lights they’re actually connected to are for.

2) The Highway Code – No. No, we’ve no idea either – probably long gone and unlikely it’s ever been looked at since you ripped up the L plates – well, here you go, here’s the bit you need:


pretty much the first line on the page..

You’re welcome.

Dave Wakefield

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