05 November 2009

Daylight Headlights

Once you start getting into traffic safety it becomes a Pandora's box with a very loose lid.

Daylight Running Lights. This is a new one for me. Laws requiring cars to have their headlights on all the time.

Living in Denmark, this is normal. All cars have their headlights on and are equipped with systems that turn them on as soon as you start the car. I remember driving a Danish car in Spain and so many kind motorists and pedestrians kept gesturing to me that my lights were on but I didn't know how to turn them off.

I always figured that given the limited light in the winter [and fall and spring] in Scandinavia, this was a good idea. So discovering an entire movement against Daylight Running Lights was a surprise and an interesting one at that. Our reader Charlie sent a link in the comments section of this post.

This website called Drivers Against Daytime Running Lights is quite clear about their opposition to potential laws. I have a default setting that causes me to be sceptical every time I see Drivers Against Something, since it rarely is productive or helpful to society at large.

But even the British CTC, in this .pdf, comes out strong against laws for 24/7 headlights:

However, our concerns over any proposal for a blanket requirement to use DRL in daytime are as follows:
- The use of DRL is likely to be detrimental to cyclists’ safety by increasing the chances of drivers failing either to “see” or to “notice” cyclists. This could occur either because light sources (such as headlights) cause visual darkening in the area around them (i.e. cyclists, or indeed pedestrians, could be “masked” by lights behind them), or because the widespread presence of lights would divert drivers’ attention away from other visual information (e.g. the presence of a pedestrian or cyclist), or because drivers become increasingly accustomed to the habit of looking for “lights” (rather than “people” or “vehicles”) to signify the presence of a hazard on the road.

- The ensuing increase in the risks faced by (pedestrians and) cyclists could undermine efforts to encourage increased (walking and) cycling, thus having significant disbenefits in terms of wider health, environmental and other social objectives.

- Moreover, the additional energy required for DRL would significantly increase fuel consumption and hence greenhouse emissions from transport, at a time of mounting evidence of the urgency with which we need to take serious action to avert runaway climate change.

The DADRL website is shrill and alarmist - reason for scepticism right off the bat since shrill and alarmist drivers are rarely sober and balanced - but there are some interesting names on their links page, including pedestrian groups and even the European Cyclists' Federation.

Although after this link - National Motorists' Association USA - you can read that "the NMA were instrumental in lifting the 55mph speed limit - accidents have reduced".

Yeah, right.

Anyway, I'm wondering if anyone out there in BlogReaderLand can enlighten me about this issue? Anybody heard of it and what do you think?


SteveL said...

Day lights on cars -I've had a VW which had them on- kind of reinforces the fear in cars that they are threatened, that they need the protection, rather than they are the cause of death in others. The car vendors scare you "you and your family may die horribly unless you have Feature X" for X={ABS, traction control, 4WD, ABS, SUV, stability control, lighting}. The nice thing about daytime lighting here is that it costs the car manufacturers nothing to add, unlike the others.

There was a US transport paper I read a few years back that looked at how much running lights helped, and they felt the primary benefit was at night, where it compensated for people who forgot to put their lights on. But running lights don't include rear lights, so now you have a new problem: you may not notice you don't have your rear lights on because your front view is lit up.

Better to have something that comes on in the dark, perhaps.

Note that on Bristol Traffic there is
a video of a cyclist harassing a car for not having lights on
. This is clearly a troublemaker doing this because they can. It might actually be better for cars to drive round unlit, as then everyone would be looking out for unlit cars as well as unlit vehicles. Testing would be required to verify this, obviously.

LGV said...

I understand the reasons for light in dark countries (sorry for Dennmark) but i don't see any reason to have the lights on in the day. Unless you are on the highway where there are no cyclists and pedestrians. All the reasons give above are true, and the gaz used is a good reason (and safety of non light owners too of course !) In france and in Romania, where i live i don't see any good reason to have the lights in the day...

Rasmus Jensen said...

If all cars had running lights on when they are driving, it is easier to see if a car is stationary or not.

I am Danish but I live in Bristol now and I have experienced cars suddenly drive in junctions when I thought they were stationary (not entirely because of running lights, but also because a lot of cars do not use their indicators when turning, and because a lot of cars are parked close to junctions because lack of driveways)

Paul, UK said...

I'd heard that there was some european parliament proposal to introduce DRL, a few years ago. I can't say I'm in favour myself. I think DRL would confirm to many drivers that they don't need to look for anyone or anything else on the road unless it's lit up like a Christmas tree. Blame the victim yet again.

Modern bike lights certainly make it easier to compete with motor vehicle lights, but why do we need an arms race? What about pedestrians?

I am just teaching my son to drive, mostly at night. The vehicles that get his attention are those with bright lights. I am having to explain to him that the vulnerable road users are the ones that he can't see so easily - pedestrians and cyclists.

Scottish Cyclist said...

I have long been in favour of Daytime Running Lights (DRL) on cars. I have never understood the CTC position on this and largely put it down to a Little England mentality, mistrust of the new and/or foreign.

I first come across DRL when living in Norway 25 years ago. It has nothing to do with short day length, I was only in Norway in the summer not the winter.

The great advantage of DRL is on days when you have bright sun and deep shade. It makes the cars far more visible, a dark car in deep shade can be hard to see. Also when the sun is low and you are looking towards the sun, you can see the lights when you can see the outline of the car.

With the development of very bright LED cycle lights, I find that I increasingly using my lights while cycling to make my self more visible. Ideally this wouldn't needed but this is not an ideal world.

Anonymous said...

They introduced this day lights in Austria for some time, but after the accident rate grew they abolished it. Some info is in the German Wikipedia at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tagfahrlicht.

Translated from German to English by Google Translate:

In Austria, from 15 November 2005 to 31 December 2007, either the daytime running lights or low beam is required (from 15 April 2006 Alternative and the fog lights when they are integrated into the vehicle's front and not subsequently been planted). Also dimming according to ECE Regulation No. 87 was authorized. After the accident rate in Austria in 2007 have risen very strongly, were raised doubts about the usefulness of a solid commitment to both daytime running lights by some experts, politicians and transport clubs as well as many motorists and debated a repeal or amendment of the regulation. On 11 September 2007 gave Transport Minister Werner Faymann and Interior Minister Guenther Platter, officially known to want to abolish the light requirement in Austria altogether as soon as possible. Since 1 January 2008 is the lighting requirement for daytime lifted because although cars were more visible, cyclists and pedestrians were worse. The use of special low beam and daytime running lights but is not forbidden even in good visibility. Unchanged light duty applies in poor visibility and darkness). [1] Driving with only limited light (parking is allowed in Austria, with good visibility. [2]

After Austria, the abolition of the light duty announced in Italy is also flared up, a relevant discussion. The SVP senator Helga Thaler Ausserhofer announced that wish to seek an amendment to the Transport Minister in Rome, to the deleted since July 2003 valid compulsory use of daytime running lights in road code.

Anonymous said...

Since I started using a bicycle, a few people have suggested to me that I should keep my bike lights on all day every day (rather than just lighting up on dull, Scottish winter afternoons with 100% cloud-cover). Never have been sure how to respond... except...well, what's next? (Visions of strapping on lights to walk to the shop on the corner? All pedestrians being "encouraged" to feel scared, then required to all shine our own little light. Clothes that come with lights as standard...)

Is there something so wrong with human eyesight that we have become invisible to one another?

If you DO need a light in order to see someone else on the road in time to brake - then you're going too fast for the conditions, surely?

Anonymous said...

Add to above:
If everyone else lights up all the time, wouldn't it make pedestrians more vulnerable? Honestly, I think it wouldn't be long before drivers demand that pedestrians flash a light when they want to cross any road - anywhere, any time.

dr2chase said...

They've had DRL in Norway or Sweden for a long time; I once owned a 1972 Saab with a DRL setting on the switch, and I recall reading that they had studied it and found a reduction in auto accidents.

It's now widespread practice for cars, and legally required for motorcycles (in many or all states) to have DRL. And for precisely the reasons you note, I have DRL on my bicycle -- fortunately with a generator hub, fortunately with a power-sipping circuit. It is more than a little rich to hear someone complaining about that energy use, as if, but for their lights, cars would be eco-friendly.

Not only are lights on more often, they are also on far brighter than the used to be, and at much more irritating color temperatures. This may be a lost battle; apparently the French used to use amber headlights (better for other people's vision) but the EU standardized on white-ish.

Where this matters more, at least to civilized people, is when the road arms race carries over onto the side path. Roadworthy lights there (sometimes flashing, sometimes aimed quite high) are blinding to pedestrians and other cyclists. I ended up adding amber "low beams" to mine.

ksteinhoff said...

When I learned to drive in the mid-60s, the Missouri safety slogan, "Lights on for safety" stuck in my consciousness.

Maybe it was because the state has so many rural two-lane roads, so having your headlights on made it easier to see oncoming traffic when you pulled out to pass.

Anyway, I still drive with my car lights on.

I run a SON generator hub with a Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ Cyo R N Plus headlight, so I run with a headlight and taillight on when I'm biking, too.

Some of the anti-light rants have merit, but not enough for me to ignore my Lights on for Safety background.

Adrienne Johnson said...

This is something people like to worry about so they don't have to worry about bigger things.

William said...

Well, if this was true:
"DRL is detrimental to cyclists’ safety because drivers become increasingly accustomed to the habit of looking for “lights” to signify the presence of a hazard on the road."
Then cars would be running into houses all the time, wouldn't they?

I have to say, though, that after a study found a noticeable effect on safety for bikes with DRL, I've installed it on my bike.

I feel safer in traffic with DRL, because I, at a glance, can see whether a car is running or not, regardless of whether I can see the driver. This is not so necessary for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bikers.

I should like to see a study on the subject, though. Does anyone have something to share?

Mikael said...

there was a proposal here in denmark about bikes having to have lights on 24/7 but it didn't get very far.

Charlie said...

William, I don't know what country you are in, but here in the US, engineers are taught to design roads with bright, bold stripes down the middle and sides, so that it's very clear where to drive. Fortunately, some countries find it acceptable to simply pave a road and let drivers see for themselves where it is. But at least here, drivers are led to believe that they have an easily visible defined path, where all any hazards will be brightly marked. No worries about running into houses since the traffic engineers have taken care of everything for you, except for "those idiot cyclists" who "are foolish enough to ride on a road."

In addition, bicycles move. If that standard becomes that any moving object has lights on it, then cyclists will need lights all the time to be safely recognized by other vehicle operators. That's technically feasible with modern lighting systems, but is that where we want to go?

The idea that DRL benefit cyclists because cyclists can see dangerous cars better is buying into the idea that cyclists are responsible for staying out of cars' way.

William said...

Charlie, good point about the difference in road-design that lulls drivers into a feeling that as long as they follow the white line, they don't have to pay much attention.

Also, you're right that the idea that all things on the road should be highly visible and brightly marked is a fallacy (we'll have to spraypaint the wildlife).

However, sometimes it _is_ my responsibility to stay out of the cars' way: When I do a left-turn, pull out onto a major road, or simply cross the road, DRL does make it easier for me to see wether a car is parked, or just momentarily standing still.

Steven Vance said...

Before I start supporting Daytime Running Lights in America, I want the police to enforce the laws about having headlights on after sunset. I commute every day (school and work) and sunset begins before 5 PM. That means I'm always riding home in the dark.

And too often (more than once is too often) I pass motorists who haven't turned on their headlights.

Regarding DRL more specifically, though, I find that on the cars which have them and their drivers have turned them on, the lights are not as bright as headlights. It seems like either less watts are provided to the headlights, or a separate bulb is used. This power is not enough to "mask" or "hide" other road users.

DRL improves the speed of a bicyclist's identification of an automobile. I support them. I also support turn signal lights on external, sideview mirrors.

Sprocketboy said...

We have had DRL in Canada since 1989 and studies seem to indicate it has helped to reduce traffic accidents in certain circumstances.


Glenn said...

We've got a few highways around here (the NE corner of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, U.S.) where daylight use of regular headlights is required. It seems to reduce accident rates slightly. In heavy overcast, especially dusk and dawn in winter it helps me notice cars more.
Reelights for bikes seem good for this.
I don't have strong feelings about it either way. I have heard some point out that the cumulitive use of lights by day in the U.S. alone consumes some staggering amount of energy (I am too lazy to look up the numbers). But as someone here has already pointed out, it pales in comparisons to the rest of the energy inefficiencies of our beloved autos.
And yes, I drive my beater pick up a lot. I'm a rural carpenter, and it gets my tools around. And at somewhere between $10 and $20 per gallon for gas, I'll be towing a trailer with my tools behind my bicycle.