Does any driver enjoy getting a large amount of snow, dirty water, or — worst of all — salt-filled winter slush thrown up onto their windscreen, temporarily making it hard to see and needing large amounts of windshield washer fluid to clean it away? It’s a silly question, isn’t it? It’s obvious that none of us likes that experience, especially as it can at least briefly make things unsafe, through the loss of view, the distraction of rectifying the lost view, and last but by no means least, the fact that the overtaken driver has now been forced into a tailgating scenario (see more about this, below).
In many states in the USA and in certain countries around the world, dreadfully unsafe guidelines still exist which say that headlights need not be switched on until half an hour after sunset and can be turned off again half an hour before sunrise. This so-called advice is — and always has been — dangerous garbage.
It is also at least partially to blame for the fact that many drivers wrongly believe that as long as they can see where they are going, in low-light conditions, that is all that matters, but again this is dangerous. A crucial part of the purpose of headlights is to more easily let other road users see you approaching.
And it’s not just dawn and dusk that matter, either. Some very important research, from various countries, has shown that driving with low beam headlights on at all times, reduces your chances of being in collision with a vehicle or person who — because they didn’t see you coming — drives or walks out in front of you, by between 14% and 28% (depending on the exact research criteria). Does it need to be said that reducing the risk of T-boning another vehicle, or perhaps of you killing a pedestrian or bicyclist, by such a significant percentage is a really good thing?
So when should you use your headlights?
In terms of safety, Sweden was a long way ahead of the rest of the world on this subject — something which will not surprise true road safety experts around the world, because Sweden has long been one of the two best performing countries worldwide (along with Britain).
Back in 1977, it was made law in Sweden that all drivers must use headlights all the time, 24 hours a day, no matter what the weather… Period! Relevantly, this safety function is known as varselljus (“perception light” or “notice light”). [My thanks to Barry Kenward for this useful insight.]
Eventually — meaning in the last 20-or-so years — some other countries belatedly started to realize the safety benefits of keeping headlights on, even on bright sunny days. However, as it is a fact that vehicles do consume extra fuel — even though it is only a tiny fraction more — whenever additional electrical demands are placed on the vehicles, such as air conditioning or headlights, some conservation-minded people protested that using headlights at all times would increase the production of greenhouse gases and add to the pollution problem.
As a result, Daytime Running Lights [DRL] were invented, and these used a bit less power on the headlights, to help reduce emissions. So far, so good. But some countries and automakers then very stupidly made a bad decision, which was that DRLs did not need to operate the rear lights as well, just the headlights on lower-than-usual power, because omitting the rear lights would save even more electrical power and the resultant but tiny amount of additional emissions. The ongoing result of this is that drivers in such vehicles are commonly seen, driving around at night with no back lights at all and with DRL front lights which are not as bright as proper, low-beam headlights, so there is extra risk up front and significant danger from behind, especially in poor weather conditions.
I would stress at this point that I have always been a keen naturalist and now an enthusiastic conservationist, and I am by no means averse to cutting harmful emissions. However, given the direct and undeniable risk to people which occurs when vehicles are driven without adequate lights and are therefore not seen until too late, which issue has to take priority?
Tongue-in-cheek, you should note that no automakers have decided to devote less power to their in-vehicle air conditioning — something that certainly would save more power and therefore more emissions. In other words, the hypocrisy from automakers is that they will reduce the safety of road users but they will not consider reducing the comfort of their customers, even though environmentally it would do more good. Putting comfort (and, of course, profits) before safety!
So what IS the best advice, in terms of greatest safety?
Here’s a list:
- Do NOT rely on Daytime Running Lights [DRL]. We are all human and if something else is on your mind it is all too easy to forget that in low light or poor weather you have no back lights to protect the rear of your vehicle. Many people undoubtedly have been killed or seriously hurt as a result;
- Do NOT rely on automatic headlamps that switch themselves on when a light sensor tells them to. As with many automatic things, circumstances can sometimes create the wrong outcome and you wont have lights when they really are needed;
- IGNORE any rules or guidelines that mention sunrise and sunset. Even the bright, low sunshine and contrasty shadows that occur before some sunsets and after some sunrises can create situations where vehicles are hard to see;
- The common rule about “Wipers On, Lights On” is also INADEQUATE — written, as is so often the case, by somebody with inadequate knowledge who merely thought it was a good idea. The fact is that many weather conditions such as heavy cloud, mist or lightly falling snow can easily take the light down below the sensible threshold at which lights definitely should be used, even if wipers are not needed! (See the photographs.)
- NEVER drive with just the front sidelights (a.k.a. position or parking lights) illuminated, even where there is good street- or road-lighting. Sidelights are not adequate for your conspicuity.
- What do we do at Advanced Drivers of North America? That’s easy to answer. We use at least low-beam headlights, and therefore rear lights too, 24/7. Does that increase our vehicle emissions? Yes, undeniably, but by a miniscule amount. And is the safeguarding of human lives more important? We think the last question answers itself.
It is easy to identify a person driving safely from someone who is a bad driver by their attitude about whether to pass a snow plough on winter roads.
Is that whiteness you can see on the road just a sprinkling of light snow or could there be ice in among it.
Continue reading “Do You REALLY Want to Pass the Snow Plow?”
On 4 October, 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a link on Facebook, leading back to a California DMV web page on the subject of supposedly safe steering, which was based on guidelines from NHTSA itself.
Sadly, however, it is fairly clear that America has never had a systemic hierarchy in relation to good, safe driving methodology… something that the nation’s grossly-inadequate and often even inappropriate standard of driving tests illustrates all too well. Even American law enforcement departments — limited almost entirely to private-track “dynamics” driver training — have too few skills and too little knowledge for safe driving when, in fact, they should be setting the highest-possible example for the task.
According to NHTSA, 1 in 3 drivers (31.5%) admitted to driving within the prior 30 days when they were so tired that they had trouble keeping their eyes open. [Source: NHTSA, Facebook, 9/28/17]
Over the past 12 years, Advanced Drivers of North America has carried out driver safety training for various valued clients in the Pacific North West.
My own first visit to Washington was to carry out training for a client in the somewhat quieter south-eastern corner of the State: the “Tri-Cities” of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, to be precise.
Perhaps 6-8 years ago, the US DOT and NHTSA published a statistic online that identified a thoroughly horrifying situation. Put simply, it said that the chances for every young person in the USA being involved in a serious-injury or fatal road crash at some point in their life is an astonishingly-high “fifty-fifty.” At that time, I looked at my four American step-daughters and wondered which two — statistically speaking — it might be. That statistic, however, very swiftly disappeared off the Internet.
Now, however, I also have six American grandchildren, and just today — August 11, 2017 — another statistic has been published on Facebook by NHTSA which very effectively renews my concerns. It said exactly this:
As of tomorrow –July 23, 2017 — it will be against the law for Washington State drivers to use hand-held cell phones while they are driving. This applies to all electronic devices, including tablets, laptops and video games. Tickets for driving while using hand-held electronics will go on a driver’s record and be reported to their insurance provider:
Even if you’re stopped at a light;
Or your kid is texting you;
Or you just need to check the score;
Forty percent of drivers say that even if they caused a collision, it would not stop them using cell phones while driving, according to new research.
The attached article and video show a story about Kenyan bus drivers and their matatus, which between them have a truly dreadful crash record. The story does, however, illustrate the power of speaking up against bad driving so, without triggering any ‘rage’ incidents, can you think of any ways that this approach could be used to discourage people from driving badly here in the USA?
One that springs to mind is to tell a friend or loved one that if either they drink alcohol or drive too fast you won’t ride with them because it is too frightening. (It may be best not to say “too dangerous” because that can be seen as confrontational — accusing a person of being a dangerous driver.)