As cars get more complicated, we turn to car reviewers to help sort out things like if a car that’s been “refreshed” is really much of an improvement. Car enthusiasts read Driving because they love cars, but others will dive in when they need specific information surrounding a car purchase.
The problem is sometimes we need to reach the people who don’t read Driving. People who drive, but are more likely to just turn the key and go. Keeping this in mind, I’m hoping the regular readers will take something I think is important outside of these parameters; we have an ongoing safety issue across most brands and many models that manufacturers refuse to address, so as drivers, we must.
Headlight systems. Too many cars have an illuminated dash even when the headlights are not fully turned on or when the headlight stalk is not set in automatic mode. You’ve all seen a car ahead with no rear lights. It’s deadly, and the driver has no idea they have only their daytime running lights on the front and are invisible from the back. It’s an ongoing issue we all can identify but seem unable to stop.
Daytime running lights have been mandatory in Canada for nearly 25 years. I’m not going to argue about studies that prove they save lives preventing crashes and studies that question that fact; I’ve always believed in full headlight operation anytime I’m driving the car.
Some cars have an “auto” setting. You can engage it and forget it, and a sensor determines when your car should automatically go from daytime running lights to a fully illuminated system, including the rear running lights. Some cars don’t have an auto setting, but you can leave the headlights fully on and they will shut off when you pull the key. And some cars will bong and chime and make you crazy reminding you that you have to shut your lights off.
The problem? In the old days – before mandatory daytime running lights – if you didn’t have your headlights on, your dashboard was also dark. You’d notice you couldn’t read your gauges; you’d pull on your headlights. Problem solved. In too many of today’s cars, that dash is illuminated, you have headlights – albeit diminished – and you think you’re good to go. In cities and highways with lights everywhere, you may not notice your headlights are weak or compromised. These are the culprits.
Here is where I need the car people. Your first response will be to tell me you know the difference between daytime running lights and full headlights. Fair enough. Your car is already in the auto setting, or you already pull on your full lighting harness as a matter or course. But those people you see out there who don’t are people we know. Maybe it’s your kid or your co-worker. Maybe you’ve rented a car with different settings from your own. Maybe it’s your folks who don’t drive at night often. So, do me a favour: ask. Make this one of “The Talks” you have with your sons and daughters and all the drivers in your life. Use your car knowledge and your car interest to extend the message that too many manufacturers don’t think is important enough to fix with a simple harness adjustment that would leave the dash dark if the headlights aren’t fully engaged. Check what the people around you drive, and make sure their cars are on the auto setting if they have it, or remind them to fully engage their lighting system if they don’t.
I would love to give you a list of cars that don’t illuminate their rear ends, but I can’t formulate a comprehensive one because there are too many. Honda and Toyota are prime candidates, but very few brands – Saab and Mercedes spring to mind – are consistent across their model lineups in not being guilty of this. Some Fords do, some don’t. Same with GMs and Chryslers.
We’re heading into winter, and everyone has found themselves up the butt of a car that is unlit. You will be blamed for running into them, but surely we could all do a little better on making ourselves as visible as possible. It’s the responsibility of a driver to know his or her own car and operate it accordingly.
But I also like to think those of us who know better can use their knowledge to keep everyone around them a little safer.