SINCE 2011 ALL NEW PASSENGER CARS and small delivery vans sold in Europe and Canada have been required to have daytime running lights (DRL) fitted as standard. There’s no such requirement in Australia, yet most makers offer cars locally with them, citing the safety benefits.
But do daytime running lights offer any real safety benefit? Yes, and no. It all depends on what time of day you’re driving around.
Norway, Denmark and Canada all say, via a series of studies, that daytime running lights have significantly reduced a number of collision types (daytime crashes reduced by 6-11%; while crashes with pedestrians reduced by 28%). However, a US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report found no US-based evidence to support the Canadian and northern European studies.
The being said, the NHTSA report only looked at evidence of the effectiveness of daytime running lights during daylight hours, whereas the other studies looked at their effect in low-light conditions (early morning and late afternoon). And it’s at those times, just before drivers activate their main lights, that daytime running lights are of most benefit.
Daytime running lights are designed to increase a vehicle’s visibility in daylight conditions and they’re designed to produce minimal glare in comparison to fog lights and external-fit driving lights. Daytime running lights activate automatically when the vehicle’s ignition is turned on and turn-off automatically when either low beam or fog lights are activated.
Anyone who’s been out and about on our highways and byways will have noticed drivers of older cars using their fog lights as daytime running lights, or even using them in conjunction with their main beams at night. This is actually illegal, carrying a $75 fine in NSW.
According to NSW laws, “Front and rear fog lights must only be used in fog or rain, or when conditions such as smoke and dust limit your vision. It is a legal requirement that once conditions improve and you can see more clearly, the front and rear fog lights are switched off”.
What about driving lights? Well, these are usually purchased after-market and installed either at the same height or slightly above the vehicle’s headlights. Driving lights must be connected to only activate when a vehicle’s high beam is turned on.
Just to confuse matters further, external-fit daytime running lights are now appearing on the market (look for kits complying with ADR 76/00 or ECE R87) but these too must conform to strict rules. Queensland’s Traffic Road Use Management – Vehicle Standards and Safety Regulation 2012 states:
- A pair of daytime running lights may be fitted to a motor vehicle;
- A pair of daytime running lights fitted to a motor vehicle with 4 or more wheels must be fitted with the centre of each light: (a) at least 600mm from the centre of the other light; and (b) not over 510mm from the nearer side of the vehicle;
- However, a pair of daytime running lights fitted to a motor vehicle under 1300mm wide may be fitted with the centre of each light not under 400mm from the centre of the other light;
- When on, a daytime running light must: (a) show a white or yellow light visible from the front of the vehicle; and (b) not use over 25W; and
- Daytime running lights must be wired so they are off when a headlight, other than a headlight being used as a flashing signal, is on.
So, while there’s no legal requirement to have your low beam headlights on during the day, we suggest that it’s a good idea. Just make sure that if you own an older car you’re not substituting fog lights in place of daytime running lights.
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