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Daytime Running Lights Are a Good Thing. Or Are They?

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author photo by Bill Leedy January 2018

Today, it's time to discuss daytime running lights. Are they a good thing? A bad thing? Surprisingly, there are more opinions on this topic than you might think.

We'll start with some history. Daytime running lights started to show up in the U.S. in the mid-1990s on a handful of cars -- and by the turn of the century were offered as standard equipment from several manufacturers. Then, when Audi introduced the world to the possibilities of LED lighting, they became practically ubiquitous, as everyone followed suit. What I did learn, however, is that they were first mandated for use in 1977 ... in Sweden. (They're also mandated in Canada, and probably a few other countries.)

Their original purpose was the same as it is today: increased visibility for other motorists around you. However, in Sweden (or indeed, anywhere very far north), the position of the earth creates lower ambient daytime light for about half the year. That means that even on the brightest of days, visibility is compromised. Naturally, Saab and Volvo were the first to implement DRLs.

In a little searching, you can find a few online communities dedicated to eradicating such nonsense as having lights doing the same job as our sun. One organization includes several compelling reasons why -- including added fuel usage, as DRLs could subtract up to as much as 0.5 mpg for high-wattage systems. Although, now that most cars have a form of LED strip for this purpose, the added fuel usage is basically negligible. Other reasons include the additional expense that comes from the increase in bulb-replacement frequency. On top of it all, some groups also don't necessarily believe that there is a real benefit to safety.

With that said, I've always been a believer in having lights on in the daytime -- but I must admit, it was surprising to read (well, by read I mean glance at very briefly) a 110-page study conducted by the NHTSA that concluded that their effectiveness at reducing accidents was minimal.

Moving past the pros and cons, there's always something I've always wondered. Especially with the advent of LED lighting, why is it only the headlights that are illuminated? First, while DRLs make it easier to see cars coming toward you or coming up behind you, why not the ones your catching up to? Especially in the rain, fog or on highly overcast days?

Probably the time I would most like the taillights to illuminate is in situations with inattentive drivers in twilight. For drivers who don't have automatic headlights, they often forget to turn on their lights, instead leaving the DRLs on as their sole headlight -- and since their taillights don't illuminate, it's hard to see them from behind. I see this just about daily in the fall/winter months when my commute happens either at dusk or in the evening.

So, while it would obviously still be advantageous to turn on the headlights at night, I don't know of a compelling reason not to have some LED lights mounted front and rear that are on all the time. If we're going to do it up front, doesn't the rear make sense, too?

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Daytime Running Lights Are a Good Thing. Or Are They? - Autotrader