Kenzie: Why it’s time to discontinue the headlight switch

Car on? Lights on. Car off? Lights off. You will be safer. I will be safer too.

By Jim Kenzie Wheels.ca

Jan 4, 2016 4 min. read

Article was updated 7 years ago

Join the Conversation (2)
Car companies are always looking to cut costs. As they should.

You know I am always willing to help, so here’s a huge idea for them all: eliminate the headlight switch.

It is a pretty complicated piece, needing several positions to allow for on, off, and “Auto” in an increasing number of cases.

That must cost several dollars each. And, the switch is totally useless.

Toss it out.

There are no driving situations where your full lighting system should not be on. Study after study shows lights on is the safe way to go.

It’s why Canada followed Sweden down the Daytime Running Lights (DRL) road decades ago. Most countries, save our cousins to the south, have followed suit.

RELATED: How daytime running lights could earn you a ticket

Too bad Transport Canada got our regulation so blessedly wrong by mandating only front lights. When I told that to the vice president of safety for Volvo (which spearheaded this innovation back in the day), she couldn’t believe it.

Neither can I.

With many drivers spending much of their time on highways, being visible from behind is at least as important as being visible from in front, if not more so. Especially near dawn or dusk, or in poor weather.

But with DRL, many drivers think their lights are on because they can see light reflecting on the pavement in front of them, and the dash is lit up because — well, it has to be because most dashes are digital these days. They are unaware that they are sitting ducks from behind.

And because of DRL, those of us who do have half a clue can’t flick our lights off and on to alert such drivers of the danger they cause to themselves and to others.

The other problem with DRL is that it is a federal regulation. It only requires manufacturers to build this feature into the cars before they can be sold.

But unless provincial or territorial highway traffic acts require this functionality — to my knowledge, only the Yukon Territory does — there is nothing to prevent you from disabling it. Not that I think many people would, or do. But should the relay that controls DRL fail, there is no requirement that you need to pay the hundred or so bucks it costs to fix it. That is, if you even know it needs fixing.

So, what we need is the full lighting system wired to the ‘hot’ side of the ignition.

RELATED: Never underestimate the importance of your car's lights 

What could be simpler? What? You don’t want your spouse to catch you driving home much later than you should be?

Sorry buddy — not going to sacrifice my safety to enable your indiscretions. Besides, DRL give you away anyhow, unless you back down the last kilometre into your driveway.

What about police on a stakeout? Cop cars are customized eleven ways from Sunday. They could be retrofitted if need be.

Everybody else? Lights on, all the time. Eliminate the switch, everybody’s safer, cars are cheaper.

Yes, there would still have to be a high beam dimmer. Just put a single-function item on the left steering column stalk, done deal. And add a rheostat to adjust instrument panel illumination. No problem.

This also frees up some space either on that steering column stalk, or on the dashboard which, downtown Toronto notwithstanding, is the most expensive real estate in the world.

At the very least, carmakers must set their cars up so that if you switch off the ignition, the lights go off automatically, so those who do run lights on have no chance of also running down their batteries.

Many carmakers already do this, why don’t they all? Beats me.

But until lawmakers and automakers make changes, you will have to take this matter into your own hands.

Car on? Lights on. Car off? Lights off.

You will be safer. I will be safer too.

And who doesn’t want that?

OK, better not answer that last one.

Freelance writer Jim Kenzie is chief auto reviewer for Toronto Star Wheels. To reach him, email wheels@thestar.ca and put his name in the subject line.




More from Wheels & Partners