Lee Wolstenholme's blog: 1 December - The Christmas lights are switched on, but are yours?
01 December 2016
Fully autonomous cars won't become the norm for a good while yet, due to factors such as legislation, infrastructure, insurance and cost, but plenty of automated features have already worked their way into a wide variety of cars, from luxury saloons to humble superminis.
All new cars and small vans have been fitted with daytime running lights (DRL) since February 2011 thanks to European Directive 2008/89/EC. First and foremost a safety feature, manufacturers have keenly striven to utilise DRL to make their latest creations as distinctive as possible and numerous styles now exist in the market, from LED eyebrows and eye-liner to swirls, oblongs and shapes not dissimilar to handlebar moustaches.
There's a snag with DRL, though. They're designed to switch on immediately once the engine is turned on and the DRL on certain cars are bright enough for some drivers to be oblivious that their headlights and rear lights aren't illuminated. I once followed a popular SUV that drove for over twenty miles through the Peak District at night with just its DRL activated. My attempts to alert the driver were unsuccessful and I only hope they reached their destination in one piece after driving with their safety seriously compromised.
Organisations such as GEM Motoring Assist have issued reminders over DRL but it's a continuing problem and may ultimately lead to automatically illuminated rear lights also becoming law.
An increasing variety of cars are also being fitted with auto high beam lights referred to as anything from Dynamic Light Assist to Autobeam Adaptive Headlights depending on the manufacturer. Switching headlights between dipped and high beam can be a chore, particularly when driving along busy roads, so it's a welcome technological development.
Just like with DRL, though, human input is required. Unless high beam automation is activated by selecting the appropriate option on the stalk, it won't function. At the extreme end of the scale, there's the risk that some motorists whose cars are equipped with this functionality will assume that all the lights will illuminate without them doing anything, exposing them to the risk of driving along unlit except for DRL.
We're now officially in wintertime with its dark mornings and evenings, but these aren't the only times that headlights should be switched on. Fleet and personal drivers are encouraged to activate their headlights in gloomy conditions, too, when visibility is reduced. Lastly on the subject of lights, it's against the law to use fog lights unnecessarily, which fleet managers would do well to remind their drivers of at this time of year.
Lee Wolstenholme is a director of Vehicle Consulting