Blog : Grr…

Keith Adams

As you know, Britain is a dark and dingey country in the depths of winter – the sun comes up late, sets early, and most of us nine-to-fivers travel to and from work in what is effectively the middle of the night. Yesterday morning was especially unpleasant – overcast and foggy – and, at 7.30, I found myself struggling to lift myself from what threatened to be a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

What made matters worse was that I ended up being inches from an accident. It was one of those things – waiting to do a right-hand turn from a suburban side road on a 20mph limited housing estate, I gunned it away when the road was clear, only to be nearly rear ended by a black Ford Focus. Where the hell did that come from? You know where this is going… no headlights.

After a bout and fist waving (from the young lady in the Focus, not me, I hasten to add), things settled down – and I thought I’d start paying attention to the matter of vehicle lighting; seeing just how many people are actually switching on when it’s at twilight on a grotty morning.

And the results aren’t encouraging. Driving along your average A-road in these conditions, you’re confronted with a mixture of no lights, side lights (dim-dip, but why the hell did we stop calling them parking lights?), headlights, foglights… and various combinations. The number of cars with defective lights – blown or badly aimed bulbs – is quite shocking too. Most Brits seem to be quite lax about such matters.

So, I asked an 18-year old friend who’s recently passed his test, what is it they’re actually taught regarding lighting-up… and, again, the response wasn’t encouraging. ‘Well,’ he mumbled, ‘when the streetlights come on, you should put your headlights on…’

What a load of rubbish!

This morning, I adopted sad mode and started counting up the unlit oncoming cars – at 7.15am – on a dark morning, and concentrated on four marques. The results were interesting in this unscientific study… during a 15-minute 12-mile drive, I counted:

14 Vauxhalls
7 Fords
6 Peugeots

So, what does that say about Vauxhall drivers?

And, more importantly, where does that leave us regarding safety? Surely it’s vitally important to be seen out there and yet – unless I am mistaken – new drivers are not being taught how to do this effectively. Okay, so you think that common sense would kick in but that cannot be taken for granted. And that leaves me with the thought that perhaps it’s time we adopted compulsory daytime running lights, like our Nordic cousins?

I remember it being floated by the EU a while back and thinking how sensible a policy it was – and yet dozens of classic car fans (I was on Classic Car Weekly at the time) were up in arms at the idea. Why? To me, it seems like there’s a lot to gain, and nothing to lose…

Oh, and please… switch on out there – there’s no point being hit by another car for no good reason.

Keith Adams


  1. “And that leaves me with the thought that perhaps it’s time we adopted compulsory daytime running lights, like our Nordic cousins?

    I remember it being floated by the EU a while back, and thinking how sensible a policy it was – and yet, dozens of classic car fans (I was on Classic Car Weekly at the time) were up in arms at the idea. Why?”

    1. Reduced fuel efficiency.
    2. Makes it harder to judge distance.
    3. Makes pushbikes and motorcycles harder to see on the road.

  2. I’ve pretty much always driven with my sidelights or headlights on always; people ask why and I point out the visibility benefits in terms of being seen, rather than seeing, but they don’t seem to get it. The C6 has optional DRLs which are switched off by default – you have to go into a menu on the main computer to change them and this, along with enabling the automatic headlights, was the first thing I did (I’d rather the DRLs also lit up the amber side-marker lights as well, though).

    The automatic headlights are pretty good at getting the conditions right, too; way before streetlights, and if it’s seriously overcast. They’ve yet to be mistaken for foglights, too, despite being beside them.

    Dim-dip lights were a specific technology, though, in conjuction with parking/sidelights. Like all these things, failing utterly to predict how design would change and assuming cars would always have little feeble sidlights like an old Morris Minor that were entirely legal to use in street-lit areas, having the reduced intensity headlights was supposed to make this less dangerous (I don’t believe there were any energy savings to be had as a bit resistor was employed, though people did sometimes thing that they were a “good idea to reduce dazzle”).

    The C6’s best feature for the lights is the “active headlights”, reviving (as it has on a few previous Xenon-equipped Citroëns like the C4) the DS and SM “steering headlights” in a more modern flavour. First time I drove a car without them after a few months of the C6, I was baffled by the lack of visibility.

    Also, what it might say about the Vauxhall drivers is that their dashboards illuminate all the time. Nothing reminds a driver to switch on the lights like the dash being dark. I can’t remember if this was the case as the last Vauxhalls I can remember driving had LCD dashes.

  3. Of course, I missed a bit there – the DRLs haven’t been mistaken for foglights. The headlights are just headlights and in the normal place.

  4. There’s not much point in having daytime running lights when drivers today don’t maintain their lights properly. And some cars such as the Renault Megane are near impossible for their owners to change the bulbs themselves (£120 to change a light bulb, anyone – to dismantle the front of the car to get at the bulbs). In any case the EU has forced through daytime running lights into law.

  5. Hi,

    Yes Keith…so many people are just ignorant to the simple yet essential facts of vehicle lighting. Why have them if we dont use them?
    I drive a taxi (sensibly) spread throughout all hours of the day and I agree that the most dangerous times are at dawn and dusk. Too many people dont seem to be able to comprehend the value of clean, well maintained good lighting. Brake lights, or the lack of, are another bug bear along with poor or non use of indicators.
    I once nearly ran up the back of a small black fiesta driven by an old dear at twilight as she stopped suddenly to turn. No side or brake lights & no indicators!! Totally blissfuly unaware of any other road users.
    The amount of near misses I have had because of others lack of thought.
    In particular are dark coloured or black cars.
    Bulb kits being carried should be compusory and an MOT check in my opinion. Some EU countries insist upon this I belive.

  6. Canada, which also has long winter nights like the UK does,has a Daytime Running Light(DRL)requirement. When the requirement was put in, GM and some Euro carmakers made all cars for NA sale with the DRL’s. GM pulled it a few years later for USA market cars due to complaints. If you want it on your USA car, one may need just to plug in a part in the fuse/wiring main block. You may be able to do that in the UK with your car. One problem with DRL’s is when people drive at night (especially if stupid or intoxicated) is to forget to turn their headlights on. I believe Canada has a measurable drop in car accidents and injuries/ deaths from the DRL rule.
    Some USA states have a rule requiring use of lights from not less than 30 minutes from ‘dusk’ to not less than 30 minutes before dawn as well as use of lights whenever the windshield (windscreen) wipers are on.

  7. The ammount of morons I see driving around at night without their headlights on beggars belief too. The firm where I work has adopted a policy of dipped headlights on all the time in any company vehicle, and when this really becomes effective is when the road surface is wet and it is sunny. You can see oncomming vehicles a hell of a lot further down the road. I have noticed too that the main ‘no headlights’ brigade are deffo Vauxhall drivers, especially in Corsas!

  8. The 18-year-old’s response you mentioned is worrying but, to be honest, not at all surprising.

    I like to think I’m a safe driver who is considerate and doesn’t take risks, but having only recently passed my test myself I can appreciate exactly why so few drivers know how to use their lights; it’s because so few instructors teach it and it isn’t a requirement of the UK driving test.

    I know that the PassPlus scheme does cover night driving, but as it’s only optional it’s hardly surprising that so few take it up, and as it was only introduced a few years ago there must be thousands of drivers who have learned how to use their lights simply by trial and error.

    Although I personally think road safety is hugely important, I fully admit I’m inexperienced and still have a lot to learn in terms of driving. Yet I do think that newer drivers especially would benefit greatly if night driving, motorways and defensive driving were brought into the standard test.

  9. Main bug-bear of mine.
    I discount Adrian’s first two reasons as not being worth thinking about. point 3 though – well too many of these brainless morons ride without lights and should follow the same rules.
    First drove abroad in Norway in 1980s and was so struck by how sensible having dipped beam headlights on all the time was I’ve driven that way ever since (and I’m still not skint and no noticeable difference in mpg when I compare notes with others).
    It’s simple and safer.
    It should be compulsory.
    One dull idea is to drive (in any conditions) with just sidelights. There is no point. Try this:
    Straight bit of road, peer into the distance, you see the vehicle before the sidelights. Go on try it. Never fails.
    Dipped heads all the time. Please.
    Pity the AOR website posts a friggin Audi as picture.
    you’re straying away from where we should be at Keith.

  10. @LeonUSA

    IIRC DRLs in North America, unlike the system adopted by the Swedish, run without tail-lights. Volvo/Saab used to have lighting at the rear as well.

    As for other remarks – I don’t know about other drivers (I see enough blown bulbs to suspect it’s not normal) but I always check my lights in reflective surfaces; when reversing I’ll tap my brakes if I see a window and check all the lights come on. It’s partly safely, and partly OCD “Something on my car is broken! I must fix it!”.

    I agree about the difficulty of replacing bulbs; apparently the Xenon HIDs are supposed to last the life of the car. I remain unconvinced, though as I drive a French car I will probably be proven wrong.

  11. @Tony

    You should have seen York today in the snow. I’m a bus driver, and the massive number of morons with no lights on, or a thick blanket of snow covering the lights totally, plus most of the windows..

    Where did these oafs get their licences from? Off the back of a cornflakes box?

  12. Well, I have to semi disagree.. usingly lights when visibilty is imapaired (IE corectly) is fine. But just because is raining or cloudy or slighly overcast or even snow does not mean you need lights in daylight hours, if you feel they should be get your eyesight checked or off the road. I am not refering to the twilight hours, or dark heavy rain. But light drizzle in daylight does not require any lights to be on, or snow, or 2 clouds in the sky. And BTW I got my licence from Finland. (although now have a UK one)

  13. Stewart, it’s not that the driver needs the lights to see – I’ve driven (on a remote Scottish road) by moonlight before to enjoy the serenity) – it’s to be seen. I don’t think that we can predict every road user’s eyesight or ability.

  14. I have automatic lighting activated on our Peugeot 307SW. It often doesn’t switch the lights on in conditions where I would have put them on manually, and have had to override them on more than one occasion. This type of system can breed laziness and a reliance on ‘intelligent’ electronics to provide your safety. It would be better if people thought about it a bit more, but we have to cater for the lowest common denominator, unfortunately. As far as DRLs are concerned, I think it’s more looks and marketing that have accelerated their use in the UK. They’ve become a styling feature.

  15. I agree with you entirely there Stewart. And those with their entire lights obsured by snow, how are you meant to tell which way they are turning at junctions?

    And your point about everyone’s eyesight is a good one. My missus was involved in a very serious accident a few years back, when an OAP pulled out from a side road less than 10 feet from her, and this was a fine, clear day…And she was driving a double decker bus…The OAP was in a late model propper Mini Cooper (not the German lard car), and it was sent scattering about 150 yards.

    And the bee seen point is very valid, especially when its very sunny after its been chucking down…Even just using your sidelights can be a bonus, due to the awful glare from the shiny tarmac.

    The old addage says..Be Safe..Be Seen..Something they need to drum into every road user (especially those cyclists who wear dark clothes and have no lights on at night!)

  16. @Richard Kilpatrick
    Sorry if you need the lights on another car to be on in daylight hours to see it then the eysight need looking at. I am in no ways saying there are not conditions where it is wise to use them, but many seem to think a cloudy dry winters day requires headlights, it does not. Or rain again not needed, in fact if the rain is that bad you feel other cars need their lights on for you to avoid them, it probbly means slowing down might be wise?

    Those that drive with their lights on all the time only rate slightly higher than the ‘Middle lane Morons’ who rate only marginally higer than the one hand at 12 while driving in my opinion although normally they seem to fall into all 3.

  17. I had an invisible car until recently, a dark green Vauxhall Zafira. It was staggering how many other drivers could not see this car in daylight – I put it down to the colour being the same as the hedgerows etc. So I made the policy of putting on the head lights in anything other than bright sunshine – I can honestly say it made a world of difference. I used to expriment sometimes and leave them off – back to invisibility straight away. I now have a dark blue Zafira and the effect is less. We used to have an invisible Chrysler Sunbeam, and that was white………
    Those who insist on using rear fog lights in heavy traffic, worse still when it is raining should be shot. Can someone arrange that please.

  18. Its the Auto Headlight aka LAZINESS syndrome. People expect the car to know best and put the lights on when it needs to but these systems cannot cope with foggy conditions. How hard is it to move the switch to manual?

    Why so many Vauxhalls>? First mainstream manufacturer to offer Auto Headlights on medium sized cars. Many Astra’s have the feature but Focus models don’t!

    Why the police aren’t out making a MINT on this I’ll never know!

  19. What annoys me even more is people who drive round with their “dickhead lights” on for no reason. You know the ones I mean; foglights / driving lights for no good reason. How hard can it be for these people to work it out? Fog lights when it’s not foggy – dickhead. Driving lights when it’s not pitch black – dickhead.

    It’s amazing how many people think that driving lights (or sports lights, as Ford have deemd it fit to call them) are permitted to be used when you’ve got dipped beam on, even if they are dazzling all oncoming traffic. NEWSFLASH, numpties – they’re not, and you don’t look cool either. Driving lights don’t have a dipping / dimming mechanism and are therefore deemed to be full beam headlights – you shouldn’t have them on unless you would be using full beam anyway. Road Vehicle Lighting Regs, if anyone wants a read.

    Rant over. Carry on 😉

  20. Ben Adams :
    Why the police aren’t out making a MINT on this I’ll never know!

    You’d be the first to moan that they shoud be out catching rapists if they did!!

  21. As was mentioned earlier, we do have mandatory DRLs here in Canada, although it is only mandatory for front lights to be on at at least 90% intensity. Some cars, however, do extend the DRLs to all lights, front and back.

    When they were introduced in 1991 (I believe), many were opposed to them. “Headlights aren’t necessary during the day,” etc. etc. I was among the critics. However, after nearing 20 years of their use, I’m all for them. Of course they are not necessary for the driver to see out of his/her own car, but to see others. Even on the clearest of days, pulling up to a junction and seeing headlights – even when they’re still distant – immediately registers in your brain that a car is approaching, whereas an unlit grey or black car may blend with the asphalt, or a green car with a hedge, etc.

    I’m generally opposed to devices which further “dumb down” driving, but as was also mentioned we do unfortunately need to deal with the lowest common denominator out there. Although I was, and others I know were, taught in driving school to always turn the headlights on whenever driving at any time, few people seem to retain what they learned.

    The one and only truly meaningful disadvantage of DRLs that I can see is that you become very much accustomed to seeing them, and if an approaching car doesn’t have them, the usually instinctual reaction to an approaching car becomes greatly dulled…

  22. hello all,i am whats called a proffesional driver.But to most people, im a long distance lorry driver and if theres one thing that really bugs me, SPOT LIGHTS.! The sort that come factory fitted to most modern car. Would someone please tell me, why do people drive with them on when visabilaty is over a mile. They are as bright,if not brighter than high beam on the car. The law states that if the visabilaty of the road is less than 400 metres then you can use them. so why then do arse holes use them as driving lights.or even have them on in the first place. they want fining 60 pounds martin

  23. The thing I just can’t figure out about the mentality of the serial foglight/spotlight offenders is that THEY CAN’T ACTUALLY SEE THE CAR!! Are they turned on by the sight of brightly-lit tarmac? Or do they sit and daydream about how they THINK their car looks to the rest of us, and how imprssed we must be?

  24. I was driving home from town at just after 7pm tonight, and I saw a white van knucklehead with no lights on, the car in front flashed him, I flashed him & so did the car behind, and the mong still didn’t put his lights on!
    I’ve seen people with no lights on after dark all too common round here. RETARDS!!!
    Also, tailgating in a 30 seems rife round here, even when it is bloody icy! What the hell is going on with driving standards today?

  25. there is something more dangerous. Retrofitting none OEM ‘HID’ lights. i mean, the truly are dangerous.

    1. The standard headlamp lense is designed for a filament burn at the centre of the bulb, a HID lense is designed for an arc with intensity at the two electrodes. Poor focus, therefore intense glare for oncoming road users.

    2. No *automatic* headlamp self levelling. A legal requirement that non OEMs can’t provide for generic equipment. Poor aim, therefore potential for sudden flash blinding for oncoming road users.

    3. Electrical system and/or insulations are not made for headlamps not meant to be retrofitted for this equipment. Potential for severe electrical shock as lamps are sparking up or potentially a car fire.

    These should get spotted for MOT time and generally fail but how on earth they continue to appear in cars that have never had them fitted, I shall never know. They truly are far more dnagerous.

  26. Day time running lights have been mandatory on all new cars sold in the UK and the rest of the EU since last February!

  27. “14 Vauxhalls
    7 Fords
    6 Peugeots
    1 BMW
    So, what does that say about Vauxhall drivers?”

    Perhaps Vauxhall don’t offer Auto headlights on many models. 😀

    I expect while the BMW had it’s headlights on, it wouldn’t have used the indicators. :p

    What’s almost as bad as no lights, is people who use “side lights” in fog, they just as well not bother. They’re parking lights plain and simple, that’s all they’re good for.
    I think some of it’s a historical thing, you go back to the 50’s or 60’s many people were taught to drive with sidelights rather than dipped or they were hesitant to put lights on until it was pitch black. Simply because car electrical systems could barely cope with it at the time. Thing is this gets passed down the line, as parents teach their kids to drive, then they teach their kids etc etc.

  28. @Paul

    It’s a two-year old blog that I posted here to vent my frustration at the fact that this light abuse still goes on widely… well, where I live.

    I just wish that drivers would be forced to turn on their lights all of the time. And use the right ones. It happened this way in Poland a couple of years back, and after some resistance, everyone adopted this – and accident rates went down. It’s simple really.

  29. @ Keith
    If you think the UK is bad, try living in Northern Spain where hardly anybody bothers with lights at all untill it’s pitch black, seldom use indicators, have no idea how to navigate a roundabout and are without question in my experience the rudest drivers in Europe-by a long stretch! The accident statistics speak for themselves. ( I live in Galicia, don’t go there!)

  30. One item to consider also is the car I currently drive, the 2008 model Ford Focus. Ford decided to update the instrument binnacle for this model whilst also changing from Green to White instruments. The other key item they did at this time was to have the instruments switch on at the same time as the ignition.

    This keeps catching me out as daylight changes, look down, think “good light’s on”, then about 3 mins later “oh *&%! lights are off”. I am not sure this has been the wisest design decision by Ford…

  31. “DRL’s enhance visibility to other road users so they have got to be a benefit?”

    Well i think they’re a benefit, although there have been a lot of complaints from the motorcycle fraternity. Because motorcyclists have used dipped headlights to improve their visibility, so if everyone has DRL’s it obviously reduces motorcyclists visibility. Then again though, that complaint is coming from a group of individuals who’s most popular choice of clothing colour is black and black is the most popular choice of motorcycle colour.

  32. It is actually Firstgroup nationwide’s policy to drive with dipped headlights all the time, even when it is sunny. This actually really does work a treat when it has been tipping down, and then it is really bright and sunny, and road glare is really bad, you can see the headlights clearly. One firm I worked for, tha area manager claimed that was bull, until I dragged him out and proved it!

  33. In Nepal and many other poorer countries, cars often drive at night without any lights in town. This is due to drivers wanting to save fuel! Madness!

  34. “Sorry if you need the lights on another car to be on in daylight hours to see it then the eysight need looking at.”

    I don’t. However, I want other drivers to see me. Solipsistic attitudes to driving are really annoying 🙂 I cannot assume all other drivers to be exemplary, so I assume they’re all blind, lost and distracted. Usually they’re not!

  35. A few years ago the EU removed the choice from us Motorcyclists as to when we should have or not have our lights on. Most annoyed I was to find on my new bike the light switch replaced by a blank and always forced to ride with my headlight on, whatever the conditions and wherever I went.

    It still seems stupid that when cruising closely together in a queue of traffic, all I am doing with my headlights is annoying the poor motorist in front as my lights move about behind him as I take the biking line. Before I would turn my lights off, and then on again when I preparing for an overtaking opportunity, which has the added benefit of warning the driver in front that something was about to happen (along with the sound of me slipping down a couple of cogs).

    However as the policy continues of us slowly surrendering the decisions we make on the road to the Civil Servants with ever more road paint and lower speed limits, and the technology in the “black box” under the bonnet, clearly more and more motorists are not involved enough in the driving process to be trusted to turn their lights on or off at the appropriate time, so we would be better to either go all Nordic and drive with them on or simply let the “black box” do it for us.

    One thing I would really like the “black box” to urgently do is to manage the proper use of the fog lights and this seems beyond the ability of so many UK motorists.

  36. ‘I don’t. However, I want other drivers to see me. Solipsistic attitudes to driving are really annoying I cannot assume all other drivers to be exemplary, so I assume they’re all blind, lost and distracted. Usually they’re not!’

    As in fact do I, however that did not prevent a metro driver some years back reversing into my old Almond (basically Yellow!) 2000TC P6 and saying she did not see it. But if I can see the other cars without issues then so should any other driver, if they can’t see other cars without lights on in good visibility conditions then they should not be driving, end of, it’s not a ‘solipsistic attitude’ vision is a fairly mandatory attribute any driver should have before taking a car out and so it’s not unreasonable to assume the drivers of other cars can see at least as well as I can, and if they can’t then they should take steps to rectify this.
    When I started driving you never saw lights on in the day rain or shine, the number of classic cars at shows should tell you that they were not crashing into each other the when it got wet or overcast, now the second there is a cloud or the slightest hint of rain it seems they go on and is seems there are more accidents now than then (certainly on the M4 anyway)

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