Question: I have noticed an increasing number of U.S. branded vehicles (mostly pickups/SUV) driving with no daytime running lights. At first I assumed they were just burned out or whatever, but I’m seeing way too many for that to be true. On a recent foggy morning I almost pulled out in front of one. I believe car manufacturers were required to put DRLs on their vehicles sometime around the early ‘70s. What’s the story on this?
Answer: When it comes to daytime running lights (DRLs), Sweden was the first country to require them in 1977. DRLs were gradually introduced in the U.S. in 1995 and were met with a mixture of concerns and complaints regarding glare. Their intended use is not to help the driver see the road or their surroundings, but to help other road users identify an active vehicle. And while they are not legally required here, most vehicles today have them. It’s important to note that DRLs do not affect taillights, which along with headlights would still be required in inclement weather.
DRLs should not be confused with automatic headlights. Automatic headlights are enabled through a system of sensors usually located on the top of the dash where it meets the windshield. This feature works well when it is dark out and when driving through a tunnel, but on many days where visibility is reduced due to weather (snow, rain, fog, smoke, etc.) and headlights and taillights are required, that sensor is getting enough light to not engage the automatic lights. The driver must be responsible for turning these on.
Most vehicles will indicate the status of your headlights on the dash, but you should check your owner’s manual to understand what is going on. Automated systems are helpful, but they will not replace common sense.
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If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson – Minnesota State Patrol at 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester, Minn. 55901-5848. Or reach him at Troy.Christianson@state.mn.us.