Cooley On Cars
Why aren't headlights automatic?Here's why we still have to fiddle with headlight switches.
Got an email here from someone who's got a question about headlights. He ran into two lane people that are still driving around in the evening and don't have it turned on. Let me tell you. This should not be the case any more. He says I always wonder why automatic headlights- not just daytime running lights- are not yet a standard required "safety" feature. He says I've come up more than once on a dark highway to a black car with no tail lights on because the driver saw the light out there from their daytime running lights and their dashboard was lit up with them, and assumed their headlights were on. And I just about hit the back of these cars, cuz they're completely dark from the back, he says. You know, it's a really good point, Sam. It's entirely possible these days to think your lights are on because your dash is lit up. Those DRLs are relatively bright, depending where you are. You think, I'm doing good. But in fact, your lights aren't actually on. Here's the crooked, twisted, awkward history of better lighting in the United States automotive market. And it has really been a mess. We still have stupid headlights in the US compared to other markets. The beginning was sealed beam headlights, you know round or square. It wasn't till the mid or early 80s when a carmaker could do anything else. And this was long after the Europeans and Japanese had allowed these formfitting sculpted headlights that flow into the body. And they also allowed better quality headlights, brighter headlights, inside those sculpted fixtures. The U.S. didn't allow that until relatively recently. So there's the first indication that we run behind the pack. Then comes the daytime running light, this little fiasco was interesting. A lot of car makers in Europe said yes, we'd be happy to do daytime running lights on our U.S. cars. A lot of U.S. manufacturers said no, that sounds weird and foreign And we're not into it. So, here comes a battle. So, the Feds went down the middle and said, as of 1995, you can have daytime running lights, but you don't have to. General Motors was pushing this really hard. They wanted the Feds to make it legally required. But, check this out, once we started putting DRLs out there on cars as an option a whole lot of negative feedback came into the Department of Transportation. A lot of it from people like you and me. Who thought that daytime running lights looked too much like turn signals or were bright enough that you couldn't see the turn signal adjacent to it etc. etc. So the Feds backed up and said the market doesn't really want these. You can do them, but we're not going to require them. And that's one key to why DRLs are still not required though they are relatively common. Now, that's important because if we don't get wide adoption of DRLs that are automatic, I don't think there's any way to jump to automatic headlights that are required by law. You, again, can get automatic headlights on many cars today, but they're not required. And therefore, you still end up, like you find, with black cars out at night that don't have their headlights on and don't really realize. The other thing about all this is that there's a handful or two of states in the US that now require that you now have your headlights on whenever you turn or wipers on. But, of course, automatic wipers aren't entirely universal at this point. Still a relatively rare option. So we have this weird patchwork between DRLs, headlights, and wipers. All of whom should be start and trigger themselves together as a batch. Based on standard conditions and don't, and I'm not sure we're gonna get there any time soon. Welcome to the US automotive regulation mess. Keep those emails coming. I'm here to answer your questions about high tech cars and modern driving. It's firstname.lastname@example.org.