Never underestimate the importance of your car's lights

By Ian Law Wheels.ca

Aug 30, 2012 4 min. read

Article was updated 11 years ago

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Most motorists take their vehicle lighting for granted. They simply hop in their vehicle, start it up and never give a thought to lights or the safety they provide.

Motor vehicle lighting is all about safety and communications.

Headlights and tail lights are to be sure motorists are seen by others even in the most limited visibility conditions. This is vital if anyone wants to avoid becoming a crash statistic. Drivers need to be aware of the fact that daytime running lights (DRLs) do not turn on tail lights or full headlights in bad weather such as rain, snow, fog etc. or at night when darkness falls.

Part of the "be seen" concept with automotive lighting is being able to see where one is going. This job falls to the headlight system. Motorists should be sure their headlights are working properly both the low beam and high beams. The headlights need to be aimed correctly by professionals and checked regularly to ensure the driver can see the road safely and not blind oncoming motorists. Headlight lenses should be kept clean and clear. With time and abrasion from road grit and grime, these plastic lenses can cloud over and become opaque. There are now products and polishers available to the public to easily clean, polish and restore the clarity of the lenses. The Highway Traffic Act requires drivers to turn off the high beams when they are within 150 m of an oncoming vehicle or 60 m when following a vehicle.

A secondary part of a car's lighting system are fog lights. The vast majority of motorists do not know when to use these specialized lights. They are designed to be used when the fog is so thick that it prevents the headlights from penetrating through the water droplets to light up the road ahead. When this occurs, the light from the headlights reflects back into the driver's eyes making matters worse. In this event, the driver should turn off the headlights and turn on the fog lights to illuminate the road below the fog.

It is also important that motorists turn off their fog lights on unlit roads at night to prevent temporarily blinding oncoming traffic. Fog lights were not designed for use on clear nights. If a motorist wants to use their fog lights on clear nights for the extra candlepower to help illuminate the road side, they should simply turn them off when encountering oncoming traffic as they would with their high beams. It doesn't make sense to blind a driver coming at you with a closing speed of up to 200 km/h!

Turn signals and brake lights are the communication side of our automotive lighting system.

It is important for your safety that the drivers approaching you from behind know you are slowing or stopping. Brake lights should be bright and red. In other words no broken lenses.

Turn signals let the other motorists around you know when you need to change lanes or make a turn. With the lack of adequate training most drivers have, surprising other drivers with a lane change or turn is never a good idea.

Driving instructor and road safety specialist Shaun de Jager points out in his article "Not Signalling a Real Danger" just how important turn signals really are to road safety. Shaun points out that a study in the U.S. shows that not using turn signals or improper use of signals is responsible for as many as 2,000,000 traffic crashes annually.

That is a significant number of collisions. How many lives could have been saved for a simple signal?

All drivers and motorcyclists, especially newer riders, also need to ensure that they cancel their turn signals once their lane change or turn is completed. Not doing so can be very confusing to other motorists and endanger the rider's life.

Every trucker and motorist should be checking their lighting system regularly to ensure all lights work. It is actually easier than you might think

A simple headlight/tail light check can be done even when you are alone. Simply turn on your full lights and walk around your vehicle to see if all taillights and headlights are illuminated. When you have someone riding as passenger, before entering your vehicle, simply ask them to have a look at your brake lights and turn signals as you operate them. A brake light check can be done when backing into a parking spot in a mall if the store has windows that can reflect the lights. Since everyone should be backing into parking spaces anyway, this is a simple way to check for yourself if your brake lights are functioning properly. Don't forget to check the third or high mounted brake light as this extra brake light also contributes to your safety.

Also, when you take your vehicle in for its emissions test, ask the technicians to check your headlight alignment so you won't be blinding oncoming traffic.
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