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Using your loaf when using your lights

UKMotortalk contributor Steve Houlihan vents his spleen..

There seems to be a growing trend for the misuse – or lack of use at all in some cases – of vehicle lights. 
Now that more cars have daytime running lights -or DRLs – drivers seem to think that having these on negates the need for the proper vehicle lights to be on. 

Why on earth would anyone think that?!

Only the other week I was driving along the M4, it was dark – not getting dark, actually properly dark, when I came upon a car, a black car I might add, without lights on. 
So naturally I politely flashed the driver to hopefully prompt him into putting his lights on. 

No response. 

I flashed again – I always flash vehicles who don’t have lights on in dark conditions or bad weather (more on bad weather later).

Still no response from the black car in front, in the dark. So, as he was driving at 50 mph in fast moving traffic, and I didn’t fancy hanging around, I did the obligatory mirror, signal and manoeuvred around the black car (in the dark) to pass him. 

As I got alongside him I could see a faint glow from the front of his car which meant his DRLs were on. 

So, I gave him a couple of toots on the horn, hoping he’d look at me, so I could wind down my nearside window and tell him he didn’t have his lights on. Instead he just turned his lights on, then back off again a second later, all in one movement. 

Bemused, I shook my head and carried on, I’d done my best to tell him but seemingly he wasn’t listening.

Since this event I’ve given his actions and reasons a bit of thought. Did the sudden glow in front of his car tell him he’d put his full beam on? Does he not know the controls of his car? 

Or were his dashboard instruments lit?

This last, it seems to me, is a bad idea that car makers and designers have incorporated into their machinery. 
You don’t need instruments lit during the day. If you go through a tunnel, where it’s less bright even if lit internally, you’re supposed to put your lights on, which will illuminate the instruments too. I think that drivers honestly forget their lights aren’t on, ’cause the instruments are lit!

My company has a new van, which I’m the sole driver of. 
It’s a Mercedes Sprinter. It has DRLs. The previous one didn’t. In fact this is the first vehicle I’ve driven a lot that has had them. We’ve only had the van a week at time of writing. My instruments aren’t lit all the time.
But. I still switch my lights on in dim light or bad weather (no, later still for the bad weather thing!) because I use my EYES to see whether lights should be on or not.
As a rough, very rough, guide, if I cannot see my instruments easily, as in if the panel looks a bit dark, lights go on. I don’t believe in sidelights. Mine are either on or off.

Now, with mention of sidelights we can at last move onto bad weather.

Sidelights are not enough when driving along a motorway, or any road really, in heavy rain or snow, or thick fog (more on fog later). 
It’s not about seeing where you’re going, it’s about being seen by vehicles you’re approaching or passing. This applies especially on motorways. 
And, if your car is dirty, the front usually gets especially dirty in spells of cold, damp weather when salt has been spread on the motorways. 

So, a point to note at this, er, point, is that lights should be cleaned if they become dirty. Most vehicles still don’t have headlamp wash systems. But who does that really? It’s a bad habit we have that we don’t do things we should, or we do things we shouldn’t (more on bad habits later!).

In heavy rain/snow or fog, if you look in your mirror, it’s virtually impossible to see a car with only its sidelights on. And actually impossible to see a car with no lights on at all. It’s just downright dangerous.
And, as a bit of a sideline to the sidelights issue (see what I did there?), if it’s raining heavily enough to have your wipers on, surely it’s raining heavily enough to have your lights on.
I should point out, but I really shouldn’t need to, that by “lights” I mean dipped headlights, not full beam. 

Just to clarify..

Car makers are seemingly taking more driver input away from actually driving a car – auto lights, auto wipers, anti collision… Surely they can make it so that if the wipers are on constant mode the lights come on too? That would make perfect sense and is a no-brainer to me.

And, whilst we’re on the subject of bad weather, a little bit of fog… 

Foglights to be precise. And rear ones to be even more precise. If it’s a bit misty, with patches here and there, you do not need foglights on. 

The Highway Code states that foglights should be used if visibility is down to less than 100 metres. As a rough guide, very rough, again, I use this; if the car in front of me is hard to see, the car behind me – if it’s a similar distance away – will find it hard to see me. So, on go the rear fogs. 
When the car behind gets nearer, off go the fogs. Unless you have a classic with small rear lights, such as a Triumph Spitfire Mk1 for example, most cars’ normal rear lights are easily seen from quite a distance even in fairly heavy mist. Mist and fog are the same thing, by the way. Water droplets in the air.

These points about lights and wipers bring me onto my final point. 

Bad habits.

We all have them. All of us. Except possibly those drivers who have passed the IAM advanced driving course, which I haven’t. 


I firmly believe if you put any driver into a proper driving test situation, we’d all fail – due to bad habits. 
We can all drive, we can control the car safely, we know our Highway Code, or should do. But we all have bad habits. 

Not indicating, bad lane usage at junctions or roundabouts, excessive speed, yes we all do that. Even if you say you don’t you probably do. 
Slow down for speed cameras? Yep, well you wouldn’t need to if you were already driving at the correct speed.

These bad habits could be corrected if we had a re-test, say, every 5 years? 


Not a proper full test, more a refresher course on what we should, and should not be doing behind the wheel. 

It can only be a good thing, as I see it. Better drivers, better road manners, less road rage. More importantly, safer roads. For drivers, cyclists, bikers, and pedestrians.

Food for thought maybe?

Steve Houlihan

Follow Steve on Twitter @bandit4070
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