Now that the days are getting shorter and apparently rainier, motorists need to be reminded about the need to switch from daytime running lights (DRL’s) to regular headlights when encountering dark and/or inclement conditions. Daytime running lights (DRLs) are low-intensity headlights that are lit whenever a vehicle is running (Headlight Topics- IIHS.org). Though DRL’s provide many benefits such as making it easier to see a car faster than a car without their DRL’s activated thus providing a driver with a few more seconds of perception time to react to a hazard, they do not provide the benefit of your vehicle taillights being illuminated (Daytime Running Lights- Some Things you Should Know- baautocare.com).
Although State requirements about headlight use vary in exact wording, i.e.- headlights must be used from sunset to sunrise, when visibility is less than 500 feet or 1000 feet in some cases, now in many States headlights must also be turned on when windshield wipers are in use (AAA Digest of Motor Laws). Because DRLs provide a degree of forward lighting, many motorists fail to turn on their standard lights in low-light, low-visibility situations. This means the rear lights of certain vehicles are not illuminated (National Motorist Association). In these dark and/or adverse condition scenarios, the taillights of your vehicle are typically not illuminated unless the headlight switch is activated (No Back Lights at Night? Blame Daytime Running Lights-advanceddrivers.com).
Low beam headlights will allow you to spot an object on the road about 160 feet ahead of your vehicle (Driving at Night Can be Deadly- NHTSA.gov), but if you are traveling on a dark road at night and the vehicle in front of you has no taillights illuminated, vehicle conspicuity can be a problem until it might be too late to avoid an accident.
Many people are seemingly not aware of the “wipers on, headlights on laws” that are on the books in many states including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia (AAA Digest of Motor Laws). Non-compliance can lead to situations of driving under dark and/or inclement conditions without sufficient lighting to see hazards ahead of you, which can further be exacerbated if the vehicle in front of you doesn’t have its taillights on. The other scenario of forgetting to make the switch will now make your own vehicle a potential target to the vehicles following you.
So when the occasion calls for extra vigilance, remember to turn on the switch and let there be light!