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Drivers confused by daytime running lights

Published 06 December 2018

Drivers are putting themselves and other road users at risk, because they don’t fully understand daytime running lights.

A survey by the RAC has uncovered widespread confusion in relation to daytime running lights, with six in 10 drivers saying they have witnessed vehicles with lights on at the front but not the back in dark or dull conditions.

Daytime running lights have been mandatory for all new cars and small vans since early 2011 and are designed to improve road safety by making vehicles more visible to other road users in daylight conditions. They are not designed to help drivers see where they are going and automatically switch on when the engine is running and switch off when the main headlights are turned on.

The RAC polled 2061 drivers and found that 62 per cent regularly see cars and vans driving in dull overcast conditions, without any rear lights on. Worryingly around one in 10 (eight per cent) of those questioned said they were unsure if their car had any form of daytime running lights or not.

Daytime running lights originate in the Nordic countries where winter light levels are usually low, even in the day. Sweden was the first country to require them, making them mandatory on 1 October 1977; however, studies into the effectiveness of daytime running lights regarding road safety have had varying results.

An American study from 2008 put the figure at a modest 0.3 per cent, however when the EU investigated the issue in 2003 it suggested there was a likely reduction in multi-party collisions of between 5-15 per cent.

RAC road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “It would be good for every driver to take just a few minutes to make sure they know whether the vehicles they drive have them or not. And if they do, then check to see if they have them at the rear as well as the front.

“We strongly urge everyone to carry out this check as those few minutes could make an important road safety difference.”


hissingsid    5 days ago

It beggars belief that manufacturers only fit daytime running lights at the front when rear end shunts account for so many accidents, especially on motorways.
Until I checked I assumed that my car displayed these lights at the front and the rear, and I suspect that many other drivers are under the same misapprehension.

   5 days ago

Totally agree with hissingsid above. Worse still, drivers with daytime running lights (DRLs) may believe that it is unnecessary to switch on their headlights (and therefore tail lights) in conditions of poor visibility.

I always drive with my lights on, (older car without DRLs), especially in the rain, or on motorways etc. in order to maximise safety.

The headlights consume more energy and therefore fuel, than the low wattage LED DRLs.

So, compared to driving on "dipped beam" and tail lights, DRLs would save fuel, but for a REDUCED level of safety !!!

Surely it would be sensible to have both front and REAR daytime lights?

Engineer Andy    5 days ago

I find that when the instrument panel on my car cannot be easily read, then it's time for me to put my side lights on; then if the road needs illuminating, then the dipped headlights are turned on. technically that's not as you should, but I find this is a very useful guide to see and be seen when necessary in lower light levels before it's actually dusk, e.g. when it's raining or very overcast.

As I run a car without DRLs, then the rear (red) lights come on in both circumstances. I'm not a big fan of DRLs as it means people are looking for the lights and, IMHO, are not paying enough attention to what the other road users are doing.

In my view, there are already too many 'auto' so-called safety features on cars that mean that driving skill and awareness of ones surroundings, including the weather, are reduced as the car does more of the work during normal driving - I'm all for safety aids in the event of an accident, but many now encourage people to drive faster, break later, and to take more risks, especially in poor weather, never mind become lazy, especially if, for example, the auto lights don't work. I've seen on many occasions people driving around at night just with DRLs on - VERY dangerous indeed, especially in rural areas.

habakuk    22 hours ago

Boy you are so wrong and out of date. I drive a car with most of the modern driving aids fitted, and this makes for less stressful journeys. I'm not a lazy driver just a less tired and agitated driver at the end of sometimes difficult journeys. And yes I have in the past driven in bad light and forgotten to switch on my lights, because I'm human not lazy. I'm also lucky enough to own and drive a black sports car " mainly in good weather conditions with good visibility if possible ". This vehicle doesn't have all of the modern driving aids fitted having been manufactured before daytime running lights etc became compulsory. However this car being low in height and black not the brightest or most vivid of colours l always run on dipped headlights during daylight hours, I also have a discreet label in the car reminding me to switch them on! Just because we can all forget. In conclusion I have been driving for over fifty years on both two wheels and four , and also a member of the Institute Of Advanced Motorists. But have never yet been distracted or confused by daytime running lights . Yours sincerely Mike Webster .

Cabbage patch    19 hours ago

Just read a few comments on Daytime driving Lights. It's interesting how views differ. I have also been driving for over 60 years (50 as IAM member) but see some things quite differently to some other contributers.

Firstly, our normal light levels are much higher than that in Northern Europe but maybe we have to cater for those who forget to switch on lights at the appropriate time - probably the same ones that have rear fog lights on days after the fog (reulting reduced vision of their brakre lights!) Unfortunately some manufacterers seem to treat lights in the samre way as BHP and try to outdo everyone else. - am I the only one that is frequently dazzled by Meredes or some Honda Driving Lights?

Yes, I have frequently followed cars at night without their rear lights on. I hold my hand up that I went a few yards once when setting off in a fairly well light area.

My main concern is that in the "Good old Days" only motorcycles had lights on in daytime and that was a great aid in awarenes, especially as some travel way over the speed limit and are not easy to see. They are now lost in the plethoral of lights on our roads. Is it a coincidence that the number of motorcyclists killed or injuredf has increased so much at least in Devon and Cornwall where I now reside?

Trevor G Jones    14 hours ago

Right with you there Andy, very sensible comment. pity there are not more people around like you.

gavsmit    4 days ago

All good comments here, but i also get my driving lights triggering road rage too.

There's a fad with some people (especially boy / girl racers) to drive along with sidelights and fog-lights on instead of dipped headlights at night - i assume it makes their car look lower to the ground and more 'sporty'. This has caused a bit of a backlash from some motorists.

Where the driving light LEDs are set low on my car, thus look like fog lights, I regularly get people flashing at me and shouting "it isn't foggy you idiot" but unfortunately I can't turn them off unless i do something drastic to stop them working altogether.

Another observation is that the LED driving lights on my car are actually brighter than not just the sidelights but my dipped headlamps too - so no wonder some people are driving around at night with just driving lamps on and no rear sidelights (i.e. not understanding how these things work).

Engineer Andy    4 days ago

Also DRLs are a nice money-spinner for garages once a car has reached MOT age, as they are on all the time in the day and thus often wear out at least as quickly as old style halogen side lights that are only used when light levels are lower in the day. Older style bulbs are far easier to change out and most agarages/dealerships have stock (even if generic) to replace them quickly before the car is MOTed.

That may not be the case for stylised LED clusters that either have to have the entire cluster/housing replaced or need special fitments that may not be kept in stock (or in sufficient numbers to cover every case each day). Even then, the price of said replacements is often well over £100 (including fitting), when a generic/OEM halogen filament type bulb can mostly (aside from side French/other Euro cars) replaced in under well 10 minutes by the driver and sourced quickly and cheaply.

Ted Tomlin    14 hours ago

You are spot on about the cost of replacing DRL''s. It is a big money spinner. My DRL''s went wrong on a three year old car. Both headlights had to be replaced costing £1200. There was nothing wrong with the old replaceable bulbs, most of us carried spares. They were the good old days of not being ripped off.

Citroenut from Citroenet    3 days ago

On most modern cars, It is possible to configure DRLs so that the side lights come on too when the engine is started.

H-P VERHOEVEN    3 days ago

This is typical of what happens when ill-judged and poorly implemented law (European) meets with half-witted users. As a regular driver on the M25 one sees it all and this lack of awareness of lighting requirements to the rear of a vehicle is widespread. Personally I subscribe to the Nordic rules; if you switch on the engine you switch on the headlights, summer or winter, day or night. Sod the expense.

jchinuk    yesterday

I think that most cars have 'automatic' lights these days, so the headlights come on automatically in the dark anyway. My pet hate are those folk who switch on their front / rear fog light, but then forget to turn them off, so (usually) early the following morning drive off with every available light glowing.

James Duffin    yesterday

A lot of cars with daytime running lights also light up the dashboard, making drivers think that their lights are already on. The dashboard shouldn't be lit up unless the actual headlights are on.

Daytime running lights also appear bright enough to be used as headlights by some cars.

The design is flawed and needs to be addressed!

Karen's kars    yesterday

Is it a good idea for vehicles daytime lights pulling at your eyes,I find most of them annoying and some of them so bright they hurt your eyes. Its typical that this stupid idea has come from the EU, we all have side lights so why do we have to run around in a Xmas tree, there seems to be a race on to see who can provide the best Bejazzle. I read a report last month that some o fthese Bejazzled units cost upto £865 to replace, these are a backward step IMHO.

PaulWoods2    yesterday

I cannot see a reason for the rear lights to be unlit.
The important thing is that a moving car can be visible by day or by night. The problems created by a car passing from light to shade are present to both front and rear. It should be able to alert all road users that the vehicle is in (or intended to be) in motion, and that a conscious awareness is instilled.

Bill Hawthorn    yesterday

With a Skoda Octavia ( 2015) (DRL) if the light levels fall to the point where you need to switch on the lights the instrument lighting switches off to remind you to turn on the headlights.
Bill from Hayling

Wisp324    23 hours ago

Having run a few cars with DRLs over the past few years, there is a tendency for the instrument panel, even if only the speedo and rev counter, to be lit as well. I suspect that many drivers associate the backlit speedo with lights being on.

Even worse, a family VW Fox had a backlit speedo and no DRLs!

Maybe the answer is to legislate for auto headlights as this is a safety issue?

   22 hours ago

I also believe that dashboard panel lights which are illuminated all the time lead drivers to believe exterior lights are on in the dark.

keith higgs    22 hours ago

The more we make things 'auto' the less likely people are to engage their brains and actually put THEMSELVES in control. I drive long distances every day in all conditions and there are a significant number of people driving with DRLs with no rear lights on in the pitch dark let alone in poor visibility. Also see loads of people driving on sidelights in the dark/poor visibility! We need to educate people not automate these things. Auto this that and the other just makes people forget they need to be in control. I was even passenger in a car once in the dark and the driver did no know how to turn the lights on. She always had them set to auto, but someone else had driven the car and switched them to manual. We were driving on the A40 in rush hour in london in the dark on DRLs and it was so dangerous.
Equally crap are these new indicator systems that toggle. I constantly see people indicating left then right then left trying to turn them off on dual carriageways. Awful design that is not needed!

Kenneth Gall    22 hours ago

DRL's - fog/spot lights - xenon' headlights usually poorly adjusted despite being labelled "self adjusting" . I am frequently dazzled by oncoming vehicles often with the full array of illumination at the front end blazing away. Just shows - you cant legislate for common sense.

Chris Ottewell    22 hours ago

Never mind the DLRS, the lights I find annoying, confusing and dangerous are those fitted under the bumpers of VW's Audis etc which keep lighting up on one side or the other according to the steering wheel position. I can't believe that such a stupid idea is legal.

Nick Allen    21 hours ago

Never seen the point of running with lights on in good visibility/sunny days, just makes motor cycles harder to spot, DRL,s should be restricted to motor cycles and compulsory .

S91S91    21 hours ago

Its about time they removed "parking lights/side lights" from cars to stop idiots driving in town with them.

DUNCAN CAMPBELL    21 hours ago

My old Audi has an 'Auto' option on the dash light switch so I just leave it on Auto and let the car system decide. However, when it comes back from various garages I have to check as they seem to switch it off.

Graham Tucker    21 hours ago

Its a complete nonsense to switch on front lights without rears !

I just checked my Volvo and see that, contrary to the norm, rears come on with the fronts. I have to admit it never occurred to me that this wouldn't be the case.

Ianmenai    21 hours ago

Land Rover in their infinite wisdom have the Discovery, Discovery Sport and Range Rover all having Daylight running lights illuminated at the front AND rear, why then do the latest Evoques only have daylight running lights illuminated at the front only?!
I have made an enquiry through Land Rover customer service and have e been told they can't turn the rears on as well!
To my mind it is dangerous NOT to have rear lights on in the wet weather conditions we are experiencing at the moment, will Land Rover take some responsibility in an accident?

James Dore    20 hours ago

I don't know how people can be confused, it's described clearly in the manual for each car.

MMB69    20 hours ago

Bang on point... too many people taking driving too lightly (forgive the pun) and not being responsible motorists by not making themselves aware of the safety features of their cars and not taking time to familiarise themselves with the vehicle's operation.

Nothing to do with auto anything, or EU laws and everything to do with people lacking common sense.

DrTeeth    20 hours ago

I have access to a car with daytime lights. When driving at night, the instrument panel is also illuminated and when I first got the car thought that the headlights were on too as the DRLs are so bright.

Paul Goodchild    20 hours ago

My FIAT Tipo has DRL's but they turn on the rear lights as well, I have seen this with a few makes of cars as well. I don't agree with people who forgot that their fog lights were on, they turn of automatically every time you turn off the engine, you have to remember to switch them on! These drivers dazzle oncoming drivers constantly, I spoke to a retired police pursuit driver and he reckoned they caused more deaths than drunk drivers but they weren't sexy enough crime to pursue. Even worse are those that put their "side lights" on with their fog lights. Double fault as they are actually parking lights nowadays and not bright enough to be seen from a distance or at speed.

Nick Bishop    20 hours ago

How about manufacturers linking windscreen wipers to headlights too? When you need your wipers on, chances are you need headlights too for improved visibility.

crynshame    19 hours ago

As a driver for 58 years I find this nonsense irritating. Anyone who cant see me on the road on a bright sunny afternoon should not be driving period.I have found drivers running with dipped headlights in the afternoon which are blinding.

farmideas    19 hours ago

Vehicle lighting regulations are a nightmare. As editor of Practical Farm Ideas I am constantly being asked whether tractor drivers are allowed to use their rear working lights and the answer is an emphatic 'No' though the practice remains common. They want their tractor to not only be visible, but be seen as something big and slow. They have safety in mind. Not the youngster who has dimmed rear lights, and searchlights in front. Or the goon who sprays their car matt grey like a stealth bomber. Or the idiot who fits a loud exhaust, maybe with a backfire valve. These cars need 1. have their illegal lights failed on MOT. 2 be stopped by patrol to check whether the modifications have been registered with the insurance company. I do too many miles to know that driving is a macho sport, and those that still think it is need educating.

gmullen    18 hours ago

My car (Mazda 6) was registered in May 2012 and definitely does not have DLS’s.

Spenc56    18 hours ago

DRL's are one thing it's drivers in daylight but foggy conditions that are a menace, They have their main lights on auto and assume, wrongly, that they turn on when it's foggy, which they don't.
At least with DRL's they have front lighting of sorts, as for the back forget it.

big mal    18 hours ago

I think the issue is more to do with digital dashboards! In theold days your speedo was a “mechanical clock”. It was only illuminated at night, when your front & rear lights were on. So if you were driving around at night, and couldn’t see your speedo, it was a visual clue you’d forgotten to put your lights on.

But today’s digital dashboards are illuminated both day and night (ok, maybe different brightness levels). So someone forgets to put any lights on, doesn’t get a visual clue from the dash, and by chance their DLRs are at least giving some front illumination.

AQ    18 hours ago

It was the Scandinavian winters (seldom gets very light) that led to daytime lighting being mandatory in those countries (all year, not just winter), but front and rear lighting has been the requirement there - very sensible - and they light up with the ignition. So why on earth did the EU legislation only insist on front DRLs ?

Ultimately, it is vehicle drivers who need to think about the driving conditions and switch on their lights when it starts to get dark or if it is dull, or even just raining, rather than relying on either DRLs or their automatic lights.

This is the danger of too much automation being fitted to cars - drivers are not using commonsense or judgement to decide when to switch on lights or wipers. I have also come to the conclusion that some seem to think their indicators will switch on automatically when needed.

   17 hours ago

The regulations for DRL on new cars changed in jan16 to include the rear lights because drivers were using DRL well into dark because they are ok to drive with, in towns. This then causes a problem when towing a caravan, because it lights 8 inefficient tungsten bulbs in the day. This wasting fuel. And the big white blob of a van doesn't need day lighting.

Robert McAuley    17 hours ago

I'm even more worried about the numerous motorists who in poor light have zero lights. I keep my car on AUTO and the sensors turn on the lights as it dulls in rain, mist, dusk.

Mickey Blue    15 hours ago

DLRs undoubtedly make spotting a car coming towards you SO MUCH easier, particularly dark coloured cars. Even two cars doing 30mph are approaching at 60 mph. Rear lights not so necessary as the approach speed is much less but there is obviously a case for having DLRs at the back as well.

It has to be said that any driver that does not realise they need to turn their headlights on in the dark and poor light should not be on the road.

Ted Tomlin    14 hours ago

One practice that annoys me are drivers who at night have a bad habit of keeping their foot on the break peddle casing the driver behind being blinded by their break lights. Have some courtesy for your fellow drivers.

Road Rat Rod    13 hours ago

Brake lights on and engine automatically cuts out, brake lights off and engine idles whilst stationary - more pollution. Your choice?

Jeff Turner    13 hours ago

I have driven Volvo's for years and my first was 1978, 144, it had DLRL front and rear. Why has it taken so long for everyone else to catch up and then get it wrong?

   7 hours ago

You state they have been mandatory since 2011? My car is late 2012 and no DRL's. Also does anybody else find them a distraction? I find them too bright and my eyes always seem to be drawn towards them! I wish we didn't have them.

Wisp324    2 hours ago

The answer to the issue around brake lights on or off and engine on or off particulalry with autos is in the hands of the manufacturers. My Golf R had auto hold which applied the brakes and turned the engine off when in queuing traffic.
Our BMW 218 Tourer does not have that feature, it's an extra cost, very tiresome and no fun for the car behind.

Model Flyer    2 hours ago

I find it hard to believe that drivers take the amount of extra fuel it takes to power the headlight s into account when using headlights for safety reasons . The statement that drivers eyes are drawn to the DRL is a proof that they draw attention to the car behind them . DRL's are a brilliant idea and yes the rear lights should be switched on as well , Manufacturers please note . The number of cars I see in bad weather driving without lights is scandalous . Perhaps more police patrol vehicles pulling drivers over for no lights or defective light would be a good idea or is that just wishful thinking?

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