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Headlights: Perhaps the second best safety device

If you are a faithful reader of these weekly articles on Vehicle and Traffic Law and traffic safety, you know my position on using headlights. Briefly, unless you conscientiously turn on your full headlights (not parking lights) every time you move your vehicle, then ALWAYS buy a car with daytime running lights (DRLs), so whenever you drive at least you are doing so with some type of lights on. Driving with headlights or DRLs is probably second only to seatbelts as a safety device.

It’s been a little over a year since a “Did You Know” article was about the use of headlights, rather long for me for sure. This means it’s time to bring up the subject again.

It’s been a number of years since NYS passed a law requiring the use of headlights any time that windshield wipers are on. This means full headlights, not DRLs, which don’t include tail lights. Still, many drivers violate this law daily. Another part of the headlight laws mandate their use if visibility is less than 1,000 feet, such as in fog and snow, even though your wipers are not needed. Here again, many drivers don’t think to do this either.

In spite of the legal requirement of full headlight whenever wipers are in use, on Monday, Oct. 28, there was moderate drizzle throughout the morning. It was also quite dark for daytime conditions. Nevertheless, in the Village of Malone, numerous vehicles were driving around with no headlights at all. At least those cars with DRLs could be seen a whole lot better than those with no lights. All this is begging for our vehicle manufacturers to provide vehicles that don’t require thinking on the part of drivers, because they don’t do a good job at that.

Back to DRLs — did you know that since 1977, more than 40 years ago, all new cars sold in Sweden have been equipped with headlights that turn on when the engine is started and turn off when the engine stops? This law has reduced daytime, multi-vehicle crashes by more than 10 percent. Now, I believe every European country requires at least DRLs.

And Canada — they adopted a law like Sweden’s in the 1990s. That’s why when you drive in Canada almost all vehicles have their lights on. When Canada passed their law requiring DRLs, they estimated it would prevent 38,000 crashes a year, save 110 lives, reduce injuries by 11,000, and save $200 million in property damage and medical costs. The Canadian law raised new car sticker prices by $10-40 because of the additional equipment needed to provide the DRLs, and increased vehicle operating costs by $3-$15 a year because cars use slightly more gasoline to power the headlights — not a bad price to pay to save 110 lives, 11,000 injuries, and $200 million in property damage and medical expenses.

So why haven’t we done the same thing in the U.S.? It just doesn’t make sense not to, in my opinion. Change is so difficult. But with any change, we get used to it. So, let’s get our legislators to enact legislation to at least require vehicles to come equipped with DRLs. If that saves 110 lives in Canada each year it would save over 1,000 lives in the U.S. To me it’s a no-brainer! What do you think?