If you’re a regular road user, the appearance of daytime running lights on vehicles will be familiar …
European legislation going back to 2008 decreed that daytime running lights (DRL) should be fitted on all new model passenger cars and small delivery vans since February 2011 with trucks and buses following from August 2012. They should automatically illuminate when the engine is started and work independently of the main lighting circuit meaning that all other lights should be off. The appearance of such lights on vehicles varies considerably even though they have to meet minimum legislative requirements. They can be standalone lights or incorporated into the headlamp units and further vary from single bulbs to almost dazzling LED displays.
The concept of having lights on during daylight hours is nothing new. Volvo were the first manufacturer to incorporate such a facility into their cars because of local legislation in their native country of Sweden dating back to 1977. However, many people found them irritating and the facility could be switched off. In an effort to improve road safety, the UK introduced dim-dip lighting on new vehicles in the mid 1980s. This concept replaced the traditional sidelight but also meant that many drivers would try and drive on this reduced lighting rather than switch on headlights when dusk fell. The facility proved to be counter productive and was soon scrapped as it was not adopted throughout Europe.
So why have daytime running lights been introduced? Quite simply, they improve road safety during daylight hours as vehicles become more visible to pedestrians and other motorists alike. With numerous countries across Scandinavia and Europe demanding the use of headlights on all the time, it was inevitable that some form of new legislation would ensue. A European Commission study in 2006 claimed that road casualties could be prevented across the EU with a positive benefit-to-cost ratio when the costs of fitting the lamps and the environmental cost of running them were taken into account.
Many daytime running lights are of the LED variety that consume a fraction of the energy used by a normal headlight. A pair of headlamps could consume 110 watts, whilst LED lights typically use 5-10 watts of power. This therefore puts minimal strain on a vehicle’s alternator allegedly resulting in increased fuel economy. As with most legislative change, there are those in favour who claim they significantly reduce death and serious injury whilst those against complain of glare and the fact that motorcyclists will become less conspicuous.
From a personal viewpoint, I do find some of the lights fitted to vehicles extremely dazzling. Not only are the lights themselves too large, many are simply the whims of designers who try to make them as funky-looking as possible. Therefore, in many respects, they are nothing more than design over substance. Furthermore, manufacturers have not adopted standards for their vehicles with the type of light fitted depending upon the specification of the model. If these lights are intended to be a safety feature, then every vehicle should be equipped to the same standard. As it is, those who can afford the top of the range models drive around with the brightest DRL display suggesting they are more a status symbol than a safety feature. Some cars are fitted with single bulbs which emit a dull glow albeit complying with legislation and these are barely visible in bright sunlight thereby minimising their effectiveness. Another downside to these lights is that an increasing number of drivers are now failing to use their headlights in adverse weather conditions, meaning that their rear lights are not illuminated and their vehicles not clearly visible to following traffic!
A story widely available on the internet basically sums up the farce that currently surrounds this legislation. Many people think of a bank of LEDs when referring to daytime running lights but purchase a Vauxhall Antara and the reality is rather different …
A buyer from Oxfordshire could not get the DRLs on his Antara to work so consulted his local dealer who advised him that everything was in order. Basically the Antara’s version of DRLs simply involves switching the regular lights to their auto function! This, of course, activates all the lights on the vehicle, hence there is no energy saving. A spokesman from Vauxhall confirmed that the Antara was designed to work that way and that the lights comply with European DRL regulations.
In conclusion, that story basically sums up everything. There seems little evidence that the use of daytime running lights will save much energy and if one needs to be seen, then there is no substitute for dipped headlights. As for the effectiveness of these lights, my own vehicle has bulbs fitted but they are not connected to anything which is nonsensical! Already some drivers are finding ways to disable the function as the law in the UK only stipulates that a new vehicle must be fitted with the lights and not that they have to be illuminated.