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Headlights, DRLs — know your vehicle’s lights

April 2, 2010

Comments made to me as the author of the Traffic Safety Board's weekly articles prompts this article on headlights, daytime running lights (DRLs) and the basic operation of a vehicle's lighting systems. Not knowing the specifics of your vehicle could be dangerous. When we purchase a new vehicle, most of us do not take the time to read the owner's manual, and thus may not be aware of certain aspects of our headlight system.

I first realized this was a problem when a driver told me his General Motor's vehicle's full lights were on all the time - he never had to turn his lights on. Upon inspection, what he thought were his full headlights and taillights were actually DRLs. Furthermore, his vehicle did not have an electric eye that turned on the full headlights when it became dark enough. Thus, when he drove at night, this driver had no taillights and reduced headlights (DRLs work on reduced voltage and therefore give out less light) and never knew it. He told me he had been driving this way for two years.

With a little more investigation, I learned that many drivers don't know if their vehicle has DRLs or whether it also has an electric eye that turns the full lights on during hours of darkness, Since DRLs give the impression that the car's headlights are on when driving after dark, many motorists don't realize that they have only partial headlights and no taillights. Furthermore, some DRLs use the parking lights for daytime running lights rather that the headlights.

I have found drivers that thought they had DRLs when they didn't and drivers that didn't think they had DRLs when they actually did.

So, here is the safety tip for this week if you don't know exactly what your vehicle has, find out! You need to know what lights are on and when. Do they come on automatically, or do you have to turn them on yourself.

While on the subject of DRLs and headlights, here are a few more facts that you should be aware of:

Electric eye controls generally do not turn your lights on when it is raining or when visibility is limited by snow or fog, all cases where full headlights are required by state Vehicle and Traffic Law.

DRLs do not meet the state law requiring full headlights when wipers are on or visibility is below 1000 feet.

Even though not required by law, it has been proven that driving with DRLs or full headlights during the daytime is about 15 percent safer than without any lights.

If you are driving at night on rural roads, use your high beams unless meeting or following another vehicle.

For more traffic safety and Vehicle and Traffic Law articles, go to the Traffic Safety Board's Web site at



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