Daytime running lights and the law
Daytime running lights are becoming increasingly present on cars in Australia. And they seem to have caused some confusion on Australian roads. We look at daytime running lights, headlights, fog lights and driving lights.
SINCE 2011 ALL NEW PASSENGER CARS and small delivery vans sold in Europe have been required to have daytime running lights (DRL) fitted as standard, this is the same in Canada and many other countries. But there’s no such requirement in Australia, yet, due to the cost of offering cars with daytime running lights in one market and then not offering them in a market where their fitment isn’t mandated, most makers offer cars here with them, citing the safety benefits.
But, do daytime running lights offer any real safety benefit? Yes, and no. Well, that’s the rather confusing black and white answer, anyway. See, it all depends on what time of day you’re driving around…
Norway, Denmark and Canada all say, via a series of studies, that daytime running lights have significantly reduced a number of collision types (daytime crashes reduced by 6-11%; while crashes with pedestrians reduced by 28%) a US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report (http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811029.pdf) found no US-based evidence to support the Canadian and northern European studies.
“DRLs have no statisitcally significant overall effects,” the NHTSA said in its report. However, the NHTSA also said that, “Although not statistically significant , DRLs might have unintended consequences for pedestrians and motorcyclists. And DRLs in light trucks/vans significantly reduced LTVs involvement in target two-vehicle crashes by 5.7%.”
But, the NHTSA report was only looking at evidence of the effectiveness of daytime running lights during daylight hours, whereas the other studies looked at their effect in low-light conditions (early morning and late afternoon). Do you see where this is going?
Daytime running lights are designed to increase a vehicle’s visibility in daylight conditions and they’re designed to produce minimal glare in comparison to fog lights and external-fit driving lights. Daytime running lights activate automatically when the vehicle’s ignition is turned on and turn-off automatically when either low beam or fog lights are activated.
But the influx of cars with daytime running lights fitted as standard seems to have caused some confusion on the road, if Practical Motoring’s experience is anything to go by. All Practical Motoring correspondents have noticed more and more drivers using their fog lights as a daytime running light and even seem to be using them at the same time as low beam lights at night. And this is illegal.
According to NSW laws, “Front and rear fog lights must only be used in fog or rain, or when conditions such as smoke and dust limit your vision. It is a legal requirement that once conditions improve and you can see more clearly, the front and rear fog lights are switched off”.
Headlights must be used from dusk until dawn and when there is reduced visibility, and NSW laws define reduced visibility as being “not enough light to be able to see a person wearing dark clothing at a distance of 100 metres”.
Headlights are described in legislation as being the combination of high-beam and low-beam lights. Low-beam lights are generally asymmetric, meaning the beam points down slightly and to the left to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic while still providing adequate illumination for the driver. Practical Motoring’s policy is to drive with low-beam lights on at all time.
In terms of high-beam, NSW and Victorian legislation state that it can only be activated when there are no other vehicles 200 metres in front of the vehicle, either oncoming, or traveling in the same direction. The same rule applies to the use of driving lights.
Driving lights are an external, usually after-market light that’s purchased and installed either at the same height or slightly above the vehicle’s headlights. Most drivers use driving lights to complement their headlights and they can be particularly effective when traveling in rural areas. Driving lights must be connected to only activate when a vehicle’s high beam is turned on, however, like me, I’m sure you’ve noticed plenty of drivers using them at the same time as low beam.
Just to confuse matters further, external-fit daytime running lights are now appearing on the market (look for kits complying with ADR 76/00 or ECE R87) but these too must conform to strict rules. Queensland’s Traffic Road Use Management – Vehicle Standards and Safety Regulation 2012 states:
A pair of daytime running lights may be fitted to a motor vehicle;
A pair of daytime running lights fitted to a motor vehicle with 4 or more wheels must be fitted with the centre of each light: (a) at least 600mm from the centre of the other light; and (b) not over 510mm from the nearer side of the vehicle;
However, a pair of daytime running lights fitted to a motor vehicle under 1300mm wide may be fitted with the centre of each light not under 400mm from the centre of the other light;
When on, a daytime running light must: (a) show a white or yellow light visible from the front of the vehicle; and (b) not use over 25W; and
Daytime running lights must be wired so they are off when a headlight, other than a headlight being used as a flashing signal, is on.
So, while there’s no legal requirement to have your low beam headlights on during the day, Practical Motoring would suggest that it’s a good idea. Just make sure that, if you own an older car, you’re not substituting fog lights in place of daytime running lights.