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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Seeing the light


After returning to standard time, there’s an earlier advent of evening darkness.  As we adjust our biological clocks to our physical ones, the reality is that it now gets dark an hour earlier than it did during daylight savings time.

Judging by their behavior at dusk lately, many drivers seem to be protesting the recent time regression or are at least unable to react properly to it.  As the sun dips below the horizon, there is a faction of drivers who resist activating their vehicle lights as if there is a prize for the last one to flip the switch.

The law here states that headlights must be on from a period 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise — basically, from dusk to dawn.  The time requirement is more definitive, though, since everyone’s definition of “dusk” or “dawn” varies.

Many modern cars have automatically-activated lights that illuminate at varying degrees of darkness, some arguably a bit late.  But regarding individuals who wait until they are nearly cloaked within nightfall to manually activate lights, I wonder why.

Are these “late lighters” trying to somehow save energy?   I’m perplexed why a group exists every evening that delays tuning on head and tail lights well past the time they can easily be seen.

That leaves another group consisting of those who turn on their lights well before the deadline (30 minutes after sunset) and during hampered visibility. 

Reader K.S. is one of those safety conscious drivers who lights his headlights not only during marginal visibility conditions, but at all times.  He wrote, “I’ve been waiting to write you until we approach the end of daylight savings time.  Last winter I noticed what seemed to be half of cars without headlights on in conditions such as fog at 8 AM, snow at noon, and what I consider the worst offense:  rain at 4 PM.  It seems automakers just can’t help but offer consumers vehicles in black, white, and every shade of the two mixed together to make gray.  I find them very difficult to see even though I am in my 30’s and really do not understand the mindset of not having your headlights on all the time — the life saved might be your own.”

Where do you stand on full-time vehicle lighting?  U.S. manufacturers seem undecided on the matter, since over the last decade they have offered daytime running lamps (DRLs) on a varietal mix of vehicle offerings. 

DRLs have been used for years in Canada and Scandinavian countries.  I experienced the full-time headlight requirement recently in Iceland, and I’ll admit that the vehicles not complying with that mandate were less visible among their “lit” counterparts.

Stretches of two-lane roads here are marked with signs suggesting, “Turn on Headlights for Safety.”  If it is deemed that headlights enhance safety on those roads, it makes me wonder why that degree of safety is not desired elsewhere.

Studies confirm that daytime headlights help prevent crashes by making automobiles more conspicuous.  Nevertheless, for now, U.S. law permits, but does not require, headlights or DRLS for daytime use.

So, it’s up to personal preference whether to use vehicle lights during daytime.  That presents a problem, however, because when only some cars use lights, it exacerbates the difficulty of seeing the ones without lights.  I guess it’s just another driving conundrum.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at