Rear illumination will be added to new cars’ daytime running lights, according to memo, but we can do better
Ask and ye shall receive. Finally.
If there is one topic (other than left-lane hogs) that consumes the comment sections of drive sections it is cars travelling with darkened rear lights due to drivers blithely unaware their fully lit dash and daytime running lights do not automatically activate their rear ends. The federal government, according to a memo obtained by the CBC under the Access to Information Act, is about to finally correct something they should have done nearly thirty years ago. Better late than never?
Daytime running lights (DRLs) became mandatory in this country in new cars sold from December 1, 1989. This means all cars have those smaller headlamps at the front that remain lit at all times. Unfortunately, many manufacturers decided to light up their dashboards at the same time, while forgetting one more system: the tail lights. Because those DRLs supply some front lighting, there are folks who didn’t realize their full lighting harness was not engaged. A lit dashboard took away the only clue that drivers of yore could always count on as a reminder. And it’s downright deadly to come upon a car whisking down the highway at top speed, invisible – especially at dusk or into the night – until you are almost on top of it.
If a car has an “auto” setting on the lighting stalk, the problem is taken care of, provided it remains in that setting. Many – including me – advocate pulling on your full lighting system every time you get in the car. It’s a good habit to have. The auto setting is a close second, but too often, people could be driving an unfamiliar car, be getting into their own after someone else has fussed with the settings, or even had it into the shop or a detailer and had the settings altered. It’s not foolproof, and some cars don’t have an auto setting at all though they do have DRLs. Confused yet?
The CBC report shows that Transport Minister Marc Garneau proposed auto manufacturers address the problem in February of 2016, but they could reach no consensus. Surprise. Now the government has stepped in with regulatory standards to be set this fall and mandatory adoption of the new lighting systems by September of 2020.
I propose the Minister go one step farther; many of those cars on the road today, and many of those that will remain on the road long after the 2020 introduction, can be fixed with a software tweak that can rectify the problem. Most lighting systems go through the electronic control module (ECM). For many of the affected cars that will predate the fix, a technician would need about a half hour to update the software if the manufacturer would unlock it. Rear lights engaged when DRLs are and dash is lit. Voila.
This is not all cars, but it is many of them. Some brands, like Mercedes and Saab, have always engineered their vehicles to be properly lit. Across the spectrum it’s a dog’s breakfast of makes, models and years, with some delivering the safest lighting system and too many others failing.
The go-to for some observers is to accuse drivers of being too stupid to drive if they’re unaware their full lighting isn’t on. I reject that argument because manufacturers have created this problem where one shouldn’t exist. Education is always better than derision, and chances are very good that someone you care about – and yes, probably you – has fallen down the DRL rabbit hole. There are simply too many ways to fail the test, and if the goal is to keep our roads safer (and it should be), it makes more sense to nip the problem in the bud, at its point of inception, then to slap on Band-Aid solutions or blame drivers who may not know, or who are making a one-time error.
Good on Transport Canada for finally creating legislation to the auto manufacturers that has been long overdue. But go one better and mandate this vital safety fix in as many cars as possible while you’re at it.