The Dangers of Daytime Running Lights

Though touted as a safety feature, they sometimes lead to other unsafe situations.

2018 Subaru WRX Premium

I hate daytime running lights. I'm perfectly capable of deciding for myself whether visibility is poor enough to turn on my headlights or not. Unfortunately, most drivers are not, which is one reason why most manufacturers now include them as standard equipment in the US, even though they're not required by law. Manufacturers can appear to be proactive at adding safety features. but really, it's just one less difference between cars bound for the US and cars heading to Canada, where daytime running lights are required. It's easier to install them for everyone than to create one more difference between American and Canadian spec cars.

Unfortunately, their presence leads to some new safety concerns. How many times have you seen a car going down the road at night with no lights except their daytime running lights? During the time of year when I commute in the dark, I see at least one car completely unlit in the rear every day. People just hop in their cars, notice that they can see ahead of them, and drive off, not realizing that their actual headlights aren't on. This problem is even worse in cars that light up their instrument clusters anytime the ignition is on, which more and more cars are doing these days. This makes a danger that was rare in the past fairly common on today's roads.

Automatic headlights can help. You can often tell what cars have them by their lights turning on under bridges and off again afterward. Not all cars do this. My Subaru BRZ's automatic headlights didn't flash under every bridge or tree. But they also didn't turn my lights on in bad weather conditions. Heavy fog or snow can still be bright enough for your car's light sensor to think you don't need your lights on, making you practically invisible - particularly if you drive a white or silver car.

The problem with daytime running lights - and, to a lesser extent, automatic headlights - is that they lull the driver into a false sense of security. By taking away the simple task of turning their lights on, drivers no longer think about it, assuming that the car is handling this simple job correctly. That's not always the case. Drivers need to remain aware of these limitations and override them as needed. Despite the proliferation of daytime running lights, more and more states are enacting "wipers on, lights on" laws - and no, daytime running lights do not qualify.

Not to mention that many daytime running lights simply look ugly, like the ones on my WRX.