Govern­ment fi­nally shines a light on dimmed tail lights

Rear il­lu­mi­na­tion will fi­nally be added to new cars’ day­time run­ning lights, but we can do bet­ter

Edmonton Sun - Autonet - - NEWS -

Ask and ye s ha l l rec e i ve. Fi­nally.

If there is one topic (other than left-lane hogs) that con­sumes the com­ment sec­tions of driv­ing sto­ries, it is cars trav­el­ling with dark­ened rear lights be­cause driv­ers are blithely un­aware their fully lit dash and day­time run­ning lights do not au­to­mat­i­cally ac­ti­vate their rear ends. The fed­eral govern­ment, ac­cord­ing to a memo ob­tained by the CBC un­der the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act, is about to cor­rect some­thing it should have done nearly 30 years ago. Bet­ter late than never?

Day­time run­ning lights (DRLs) be­came manda­tory in this coun­try in new cars sold af­ter De­cem­ber 1, 1989. This means all cars have those smaller head­lamps at the front that re­main lit at all times. Un­for­tu­nately, many man­u­fac­tur­ers de­cided to light up their dash­boards at the same time, while for­get­ting one more sys­tem: the tail lights.

Be­cause those DRLs sup­ply some front light­ing, there are folks who didn’t re­al­ize their full light­ing har­ness was not en­gaged. A lit dash­board took away the only clue driv­ers of yore could al­ways count on as a re­minder. And it’s down­right deadly to come upon a car whisk­ing down the high­way at top speed, in­vis­i­ble — es­pe­cially at dusk or into the night — un­til you are al­most on top of it.

If a car has an “auto” set­ting on the light­ing stalk, the prob­lem is taken care of, pro­vided it re­mains in that set­ting. Many — in­clud­ing me — ad­vo­cate putting on your full light­ing sys­tem ev­ery time you get in the car. It’s a good habit to have. The auto set­ting is a close sec­ond, but too of­ten, peo­ple could be driv­ing an un­fa­mil­iar car, be get­ting into their own af­ter some­one else has fussed with the set­tings, or even had it into the shop or a de­tailer and had the set­tings al­tered. It’s not fool­proof, and some cars don’t have an auto set­ting at all, though they do have DRLs. Con­fused yet?

The CBC re­port shows that Trans­port Min­is­ter Marc Garneau pro­posed in Fe­bru­ary 2016 that auto man­u­fac­tur­ers ad­dress the prob­lem but they could reach no con­sen­sus. Sur­prise. Now the govern­ment has stepped in with reg­u­la­tory stan­dards to be set this fall and manda­tory adop­tion of the new light­ing sys­tems by Septem­ber of 2020.

I pro­pose the min­is­ter go one step far­ther. Many of the cars on the road to­day, and many that will re­main on the road long af­ter the 2020 in­tro­duc­tion, can be fixed with a soft­ware tweak that can rec­tify the prob­lem. Most light­ing sys­tems go through the elec­tronic con­trol mod­ule (ECM). For many of the af­fected cars that will pre­date the fix, a tech­ni­cian would need about a half-hour to up­date the soft­ware if the man­u­fac­turer would un­lock it. Rear lights en­gaged when DRLs are and dash is lit. Voila.

This is not all cars, but it is many of them. Some brands, in­clud­ing Mercedes and Saab, have al­ways en­gi­neered their ve­hi­cles to be prop­erly lit. Across the spec­trum it’s a dog’s break­fast of makes, mod­els and years, with some de­liv­er­ing the safest light­ing sys­tem and too many oth­ers fail­ing.

The go-to for some ob­servers is to ac­cuse driv­ers of be­ing too stupid to drive if they’re un­aware their full light­ing isn’t on. I re­ject that ar­gu­ment be­cause man­u­fac­tur­ers have cre­ated this prob­lem where one shouldn’t ex­ist. Ed­u­ca­tion is al­ways bet­ter than de­ri­sion, and chances are very good that some­one you care about — and yes, prob­a­bly you — has fallen down the DRL rab­bit hole. There are sim­ply too many ways to fail the test, and if the goal is to keep our roads safer (and it should be), it makes more sense to nip the prob­lem in the bud at its point of in­cep­tion, than to slap on Band-Aid solutions or blame driv­ers who may not know, or who are mak­ing a one-time er­ror.

Good on Trans­port Canada for fi­nally cre­at­ing leg­is­la­tion to the auto man­u­fac­tur­ers that has been long over­due. But go one bet­ter and man­date this vi­tal safety fix in as many cars as pos­si­ble while you’re at it.

Brian Thomp­son/ Post­media Net­work

Tail lights of ve­hi­cles are streaked as they travel along Dal­housie Street dur­ing a five-sec­ond ex­po­sure on Friday Jan­uary 22, 2016 in Brant­ford, On­tario.

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