Bright Ideas for Driving at Night

headlightsThe third week in September marked the official start of fall and noticeably shorter days. That means many of us will driving in the dark more often. Here are some bright ideas for driving at night.

Always Use Your Lights

Bob tells me that he used to be a safety committee member in industry. His favourite mnemonic was KBL: Keys in the ignition, seat Belt on, Lights on. Having accomplished that, you were now ready to consider putting your vehicle in motion.

KBL was always the routine, regardless of whether it was day or night.

Do Your Lights Actually Light?

When is the last time that you checked all of your vehicle's lights to make sure that they were working? If you have to pause and think for a moment, it is likely well past the time to check again.

Are Lights and Reflectors in Good Condition?

Now that we have the lamps lit, there are other considerations for proper night vision. Are all the lenses clear, undamaged, not full of condensation and aimed properly? Opaque or yellowed headlight lenses or lenses coated with dirt or condensation don’t transmit the light that you need to see with properly and blind other drivers with glare.

Are Your Headlights Pointed in the Right Direction?

Both vertical and horizontal aim is important to focus your headlights where the light is needed. Misadjustment means less light for you to see by and more glare to affect the vision of other drivers around you.

Unless you know what you are doing, this is probably a vehicle maintenance task that you should have a professional do for you.

Warning About Daytime Running Lights

My Twitter account was well populated with messages about lights last year at this time. The reminders were for those of us whose vehicles did not have daytime running lights that turned on all the lights. Some drivers would see the headlight illumination and not remember that the back of their vehicle remained dark until they turned on all the lights themselves.

Automatic Lights

A nice convenience in some newer vehicles are lighting systems that turn all the lights on automatically when it is appropriate. Drivers no longer have to do it themselves, unless the light switch is turned to Off instead of Auto. The KBL routine would have you check to make sure the switch is set to Auto rather than turning the lights on.

Upgrades Are Not Always Improvements

Beware what you spend your money on if you are considering a lighting upgrade on your own. Illegal products abound on store shelves or sold over the internet. Some of the legal choices are not what they seem either. Osram Sylvania was the subject of a class action lawsuit in the US over their Silver Star headlight bulbs. The suit alleged that the company rigged the comparison with standard bulbs to influence consumers.

Clean Your Windshield

Let's not reduce the effectiveness of your vehicle's lights by trying to see through a dirty windshield. Keep the windshield clean, inside and out. A new pair of windshield wiper blades might be in order to help with this.

Night Driving Kit

Some paper towels and a spray bottle containing windshield washer fluid could be a wise addition to your night driving kit along with a spare bulb or two.

Keep Your Distance!

Increase your following distance by another second or two. You don't see as well at night and the extra space will give you more time to anticipate and avoid problems.

I see lots of heavy trucks and transit buses equipped with LED headlights. Are they now legal?

Most of the Coast Mountain bus LED headlights are poorly aimed or perhaps are poorly constructed to prevent light from blinding on-coming drivers.

Who or where might I complain about the Coast Mountain buses. A complaint to Coast Mountain has not even elicited a response.

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

Be aware that LED lamps do not emit heat like incandecent lamps. I'm aware of truckers who will not run them because they will ice over and lose illumination when it's really cold.

And as far as I'm concerned LED lights should be illegal to use in winter months when the snow flies. I personally took out my led lights in the winter on my trailers, I never used LED Headlights so didn't have to change those out.

But you will notice following semi's in the winter on snowy roads & when snowing, the back of the trailer gets covered in snow very quickly, the LED lights don't generate heat so the rear of the trailer can vanish in blowing snow conditions, at least with regular lights you could see at least some light still showing through.

I have seen many truckers at brake checks never even get out of their trucks to even make sure their light are cleaned off, never mind check their brakes, they are more concerned with staying warm and making time at the expense of safety, very sad! If your not aware of what to watch for in blowing snow or blizzard conditions, it would be very easy to drive right into the back of a semi with LED tail lights, and the semi might not even realized you hit them, they could easily mistake it for a bump in the road. 

When Daytime Running Lights were mandated on vehicles sold in Canada, the legislation failed to include tail lights.  Why?  And why has this not been rectified in the years since?

There may have been some reasoning in the day of incandecent bulbs but they have given way to LEDs that draw minimal power and have a much longer life span. Logic would seem to dictate that ignition on = tail lights on.  And applied to all vehicles, not just motorcycles.

Nor should this be a Fall and Winter driving issue. Following a vehicle into a tunnel (Such as the George Massey) that fails to illuminate its tail lights causes the following driver to lose perspective of the following distance. If spooked, the following driver may spike the brakes which sets up an imminent whipsaw effect that can result in a multi-vehile rear-ender crash.

Personally, I will always illuminate my tail lights and, if on approach the driver in front has not done so, I'll flash my high beams. Sometimes this registers but if not, my high beams go on as we enter the tunnel so I can see the reflectors. I'd say perjhaps 10% get the message by flashing and 40% by solid high beams in their mirrors. If they don't, so be it. I can keep a proper following distance even if I can only see the reflectors.

But this is NOT a Fall, Winter issue.  Any time the visibility is impaired, light level, fog, mist, rain .... my tail lights are on. Nothing tightens the sphincter more than coming across a driver in a white car hiding in the mist doing 30 or 40 under the limit ... because they can't see the road!

I agree that front and rear should be lit 24/7 whenever the ignition is on.

What I really disagree with is blasting your high-beams through tunnels as a signalling measure to the vehicle ahead of you. You should not have your high-beams on if there are any vehicles with-in 150m in-front of you, by law. Blasting high-beams into somebody's face (via mirrors) in a tunnel, just because you think they should turn on their tail lights, which is not required by law, is a glaring example of the onerous attitutude that should be left at the driveway, and is in itself dangerous. You are adding light where it is not welcome, and taking away visibility from where its needed.

In reply to by Outrageous

I must admit, this isn't something I've encountered myself, and I'm through the Cassiar tunnel on almost a daily basis.

Just a guess, but - perhaps because they're wearing sunglasses, and hadn't anticipated the abrupt change in the light level - drivers switch on their headlights (or their vehicles do it for them) while the switch is in the high beam position.

Something that's associated? The number of drivers who don't know how to use the day/night switch on the rear view mirror is remarkable.

In reply to by Outrageous

Oh but it IS required to illuminate your tail lights in the Massey tunnel. For a long time, the signage simply said "Use Light in Tunnel".  If you look now, the signage even has a picture diagram of illuminated tail lights.

Yes, I'm aware that high beams are illegal within 150M but my preservation of avoiding a rear-ender takes precedence. And I'd argue that in front of a judge anytime. After all, if the driver in front is so totally devoid of common courtesy and/or ignorace of the law (Usually both), I really don't care.

BTW - It is totally legal to use a high beam flash to signal another driver.  To indicate it's ok to proceed into a left turn, "I've seen you", (Please) move to the right if you're not passing ... are some examples. Leaning on the horn should only be done in imminent collision situations.

I will be courteous to you but I expect the same in return.

I apologize, I was not aware of the tail-light requirement at the Massey tunnel, my commute takes me through Cassiar.

I still highly disagree with your use of high-beams from behind the unlit car in a tunnel, despite your claim that it is done to avoid a rear-ender. You should maintain a proper following distance of at least 2 seconds - as is required by-law - that is always your primary protection against rear-ending someone.

My newer car is always set on Auto, and it turns the tail-lights on by itself a couple of seconds after I enter the tunnel - its light sensor based. I think that if you were to blast high-beams before my tail-lights would have turned on - you’d flood my cabin with extra light that may actually prevent the sensor (located on the dash) from turning on the tail-lights, but I don’t know for sure as I don’t usually have drivers blasting high-beams behind me.

My mirrors also have an electro-chromatic dimming feature, but the glare is still highly distracting when there are drivers with mis-aligned head lights (or high-set lights on raised trucks) shining light from behind me in the dark.

Personally I think that you are reacting pro-actively-aggressively at drivers who have committed offences by way of ignorance and that is not helping. Two wrongs do not make a right.

As far as horns go - the only time I ever use a horn nowadays is when there is a car standing in the middle of the road looking for directions on their GPS with-out a clue about traffic lining up behind them. I find that when there is a high chance of collision I am too busy steering with both hands to touch my horn. Besides giving a signal if you are about to crash is pointless, I spend my focus on avoiding crashes.

In some cases drivers react very “spooked animal-like” to a sound of horn (any horn) - especially all the texters - who’d readily rear-end somebody if they were to hear a blast of a horn next to them at a red light, haha :(

In reply to by Outrageous

I may not have said it but yes, I DO observe the 2 second rule.  In low light or conditions do not permit an "escape route", like the tunnel, I'm usually further behind.  I'll close up on the exit unless I have a tailgater that I can't get rid of.

The issue is the failure to use tail lights in the tunnel or inclement conditions. Such a simple thing to do is flip them on. I have a personal feeling about this age of automation and it may not agree with yours. But if it gets the job done why knock it.

Tail lights allow a following driver to more acuratly judge following distance. Coming from bright sunlight into a dark tunnel or following a light coloured vehicle in mist or snow, this perspective is lost because indeed, the lead vehicle can totally disappear from sight. Yes, I think the legislators were at fault for writing incomplete wording, but that's what we have.

Courtesy goes a long way to make up for legislative shortcomings but I'm not sure that too many people remember when it was common.

I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding behind DRL's.

First time I noticed them was in the summer of 1990, when I was working for REVV - Race Event Volunteers of Vancouver - when the Molson Indy race came here.

GM - another major sponsor - provided brand new passenger vans to move press photographers, providing direct pre-arranged transport from their hotels, or the airport, to trackside. So there I was, telling other drivers in the crew that they were (apparently mistakenly) driving with their lights on; at which point I realized we were all doing this, in these vehicles.

No tail-lights, though. The simple regulation that had been put in place was that, when the ignition was turned on (often also wired through the parking brake relay) the High Beam headlights would be illuminated at 6 volts, instead of 12 volts. Yes, I know it's 13.6 from the battery, but let's not quibble.

The whole ratioinale, the thinking behind this issue, was the realization that after exhaustive accident investigation, it had become obvious that many collisions - with pedestrians, cyclists, other drivers - were attributable, at least in part, to the fact that the other party hadn't 'seen' the vehicle that hit them.

The human eye responds to light, and movement. Think about that for a moment, please. And recognize that this has nothing to do with illuminating the road ahead.

Whether or not DRL's work is about as immeasurable as whether the high-mount third brake light from the 1980's worked. But surely, they haven't done any harm. Have they?

Quite a few years ago, European regulations (based on accident data) demanded that vehicles be equipped with turn signal lights on the front fenders; this, for the benefit of pedestrians, primarily, so they could recognize an impending conflict. They also required a driver-switchable (though mandatorily-applicable, according to conditions) high intensity red lamp be installed on every vehicle, in case of fog, or other low visibility situations.

Heck, going back to the late 60's, I rembember my Dad installing reversing lights on his Ford Cortina (with a dashboard switch) to ensure compliance with a new regulation that of course got imposed on the manufacturers forthwith.

Meanwhile, over the years, we've seen European manufacturers (particularly the Germans) cheerfully adding those fender side-mount signal lights (now, often enough, in the side mirrors, unless it's a Porsche with them set in the fender-well outline) while - stupidly - BMW deliberately swap amber rear turn signal lenses that would only be acceptable in Europe for red ones, over here. Because that's how they figure the 'mericans like it.

Now, who wants to fix the regulations? My vehicle - a 2012 Econoline - has red rear stoplights/brakelights and I don't like that at all. But I can't change it.

But when things get dim (or actually, most of the time, regardless)  I turn the headlight switch to the 'Parking Light' position. Just to maximize the chances of other road users seeing me; the DRL's do the job they're supposed to, so long as the parking brake is off, but they're more obvious to those ahead than 12 volt low beams.

And when I need to see in the dark, I turn the switch to the headlight position. And use high beams whenever necessary, without blinding anybody .......

I was in a forum a little while ago. Can't remember the topic, but I mentioned I had barely avoided running into a Corvette right in front of me due to the fairly heavy snowfall and the car being grey/silver who did not have taillights turned on.

There was a retired Staff Seargent from the RCMP who agreed with me and who then told me to "Do something about it!" I asked him where to start and was told that legislation regarding this type of item needed to begin with writing to US government officials! Once they had passed legislation there, Canada would follow. He also said that car manufacturers would balk at the extra cost.

Since then, I have gone around and around so many times I have basically given up.