Headlights Look Dim? You Might Unknowingly be Driving With Your Lights Off

Car safety is not something to be taken lightly. So, it’s vital that you ensure you understand the systems on your vehicle, even if it’s something seemingly simple like headlights. If you’re constantly having other drivers flash their lights at you from behind at night, or you’re struggling to see because your headlights are dim, you might not have them on.

Your daytime running lights might be fooling you

Headlight and signal lights on a white 2022 Toyota Corolla Cross
Headlight and signal lights | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

According to Edmunds, daytime running lights, or DRLs as you may see them referred to, are not legally required in the U.S. However, so many other territories mandate them that we get them as a byproduct. DRLs are beneficial when it comes to low-light conditions like fog or heavy rain. Additionally, they can serve as a way for other drivers to see a car that is unintentionally driving with their headlights off. Unfortunately, they’re a bit of a catch 22. DRLs are actually causing people to drive with their headlights off, and you might be part of the problem without even realizing it!

You’ve likely seen it dozens of times. Someone driving down a highway or road at night has no tail lights on but doesn’t seem to know there’s an issue. This is because many vehicles with DRLs still illuminate the dashboard, stereo, center console, and other components at night automatically. So, drivers inside are experiencing typical backlit gauges and radio functionality and can see their vehicle projecting lights forward. However, despite all of these subconscious cues that the headlights are on, their switch is actually turned off.

Many older model vehicles’ DRLs use the same housing or bulb as the headlights. Furthermore, modern cars with bright LED lights for DRLs project enough light that many wouldn’t know anything is wrong when driving on a well-lit road. This can create a hazardous situation depending on lighting conditions because most vehicles’ rear lights do not illuminate when only the DRLs are on. So, the back of your car is effectively invisible unless you use the brakes.

If you’ve driven without your headlights on because of DRLs, don’t be embarrassed!

A time-lapse of highway rush hour traffic in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rottweil, Germany
A time-lapse of highway traffic in Germany | Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

There are hundreds of drivers that have made this unfortunate mistake. However, just like everything else in life, mistakes happen! Furthermore, this isn’t just a small issue. It’s so common that Canadian Authorities made it illegal for vehicles to illuminate interior features if the headlights are off in September of 2021.
If you are suspicious that your headlights seem a little dim after reading this info, it’s a good idea to go check out your vehicle. This may be your problem!

If your car has an auto setting for the headlights, set it and forget it. Most modern vehicles automatically turn headlights off when the car is off to ensure it does not kill your battery. More importantly, though, automatic headlights sense low-light environments and automatically turn your headlights on. Many cars will turn them on in bad weather conditions, too, not just at night. If you have automatic headlights, take full advantage of them!

If your car doesn’t have automatic headlights and you tend to be forgetful, it may be worth writing yourself a note to put on the dashboard. Sure, that may sound a little funny. However, wouldn’t you rather have a funny little note inside your car than cause an accident?

This issue is also worth keeping in mind when you’re driving a car that isn’t yours. Whether you’re renting or borrowing a car, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with basic features and safety equipment.

Try to let drivers know if you have the opportunity to

Traffic moving along a Street decorated for the holiday season with Christmas lights.
Nighttime traffic | Alexander Demianchuk\TASS via Getty Images

If you see someone driving at night with no tail lights, it’s likely because of this issue. To attempt to eradicate the problem, you can flash your headlights at them. However, given that most people driving with just their DRLs on don’t realize there’s an issue, your success rate isn’t likely to be too high.

All in all, the best solution to getting rid of this problem is spreading awareness of it. Who knows? You might be saving someone’s life.

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