HOT TOPIC

Are your spot­lights le­gal? We look at if and how leg­is­la­tion in South Africa has changed

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents -

When we in­ves­ti­gated the le­gal­ity of LED light­bars on your 4x4 two years ago (Drive Out #87), there was a lot of con­fu­sion on 4x4 in­ter­net fo­rums and Face­book pages re­gard­ing the is­sue. What ex­actly did the law say, how widely was it en­forced, and were there any signs of pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress our out­dated road reg­u­la­tions? The an­swer from spe­cial­ists such as Alta Swanepoel, a Pre­to­ria-based lawyer spe­cial­is­ing in road leg­is­la­tion, and Dar­ren Mager­man, Western Cape re­gional man­ager for Dekra Au­to­mo­tive, was that a light­bar on your ve­hi­cle on a pub­lic road could def­i­nitely land you a fine. Adam Eiseb, head of the Namib­ian Traf­fic Man­age­ment Ser­vices, con­firmed that this was also the case in our neigh­bour­ing coun­try. For many ve­hi­cle own­ers things are still un­clear around the le­gal­ity of other lights on their ve­hi­cles. And with tech­nol­ogy im­prov­ing al­most daily, there’s a lot of con­fu­sion around whether or not that bright new set of HID spot­lights or LEDs is go­ing to land you in trou­ble at the next road­block or bor­der post. To get some clar­ity on this, we spoke to a ve­hi­cle light im­porter and again to Dekra, a com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in road­wor­thi­ness tests, to find out if there have been any changes to our road traf­fic leg­is­la­tion.

NEW LIGHTS, OLD PROB­LEMS

Iron­man 4x4 Africa has been sup­ply­ing all sorts of lights to the 4x4 mar­ket in South Africa for years. So the com­pany’s di­rec­tor, Mic van Zyl, is to­tally clued up when it comes to the laws around it – and in spar­ring matches with the au­thor­i­ties around up­dat­ing these laws. Mic says his com­pany sells four types of lights and that the leg­is­la­tion for each of them dif­fers:

Halo­gen

“Halo­gen lights are mostly bought be­cause of their low price and not for the strength of the beam,” says Mic. These lights are usu­ally not much stronger than a ve­hi­cle’s stan­dard fac­tory lights and there­fore the leg­is­la­tion around halo­gen lights is not very com­pli­cated ei­ther. “If you fit an ex­tra set of halo­gen lights at the front of your ve­hi­cle, they ba­si­cally have to have the same wattage as your ve­hi­cle’s orig­i­nal lights,” he ex­plains. “Ac­cord­ing to the law, your ve­hi­cle’s lights can not be stronger than 75 W, so your halo­gen lights can’t be stronger than that ei­ther.”

HID

HID (high in­ten­sity dis­charge) lights are a much newer tech­nol­ogy than halo­gen. These lights don’t have glow­ing tung­sten fil­a­ments like a “nor­mal” globe. HID lights work with elec­trodes that cre­ate light through an ig­ni­tion process in a mix­ture of gas and me­tal salts. The wattage is mostly quite low (about 35 W) but the light pen­e­tra­tion and in­ten­sity is very high, ex­plains Mic. “In my opin­ion these are still the best lights on the mar­ket. A good LED lights up about 400 me­tres ahead, but a good HID can shine a thou­sand me­tres! That’s why they’re my favourite lights for off-road­ing. The light pen­e­tra­tion in a pitch-black piece of veld is just so much bet­ter.” But things can get con­fus­ing with HID lights, he adds, since there isn’t spe­cific leg­is­la­tion deal­ing with them yet. “HIDs can be finicky, and that can get you into trou­ble with the law. “HID lights don’t re­act as quickly as halo­gen. They take a sec­ond or two to brighten and the process takes a lot more than 35 W to start. For that rea­son, HID lights need a good starter pack and thick wiring to take the high ini­tial power load.” If you put a low-qual­ity prod­uct in or make use of an in­staller that doesn’t put in the cor­rect wiring, your lights won’t work like they should. And it’s then, when only one of them switches on or shorts out ev­ery few sec­onds, that the cops are go­ing to give you trou­ble. “HID lights don’t like to be flashed ei­ther and it can hap­pen that one of them stops

LED lights are le­gal, but be aware of the light’s in­ten­sity as well as the height and an­gle at which it casts its light.

work­ing be­cause of it, which a traf­fic of­fi­cer will flag. You ba­si­cally have to be away from pub­lic roads and other ve­hi­cles so that you can switch on your HIDs with your brights and keep them on,” he says. Al­though there’s no spe­cific leg­is­la­tion around HID lights, you still have to stay away from re­plac­ing your ve­hi­cle’s fac­tory globes with HID ones, Mic warns. “Your ve­hi­cle’s lights were de­signed as a unit, with very spe­cific tol­er­ances to be able to han­dle the light in­ten­sity of the globe and re­flec­tors that re­flect it cor­rectly on the road. If you take those halo­gen globes out and re­place them with HIDs, there’s a re­ally big pos­si­bil­ity that you’ll end up with bad light re­flec­tion and re­frac­tion. If the au­thor­i­ties catch you at night with lights shin­ing in all di­rec­tions and blind­ing on­com­ing traf­fic, you’re go­ing to be in trou­ble.” LED light­bars and lights

While some coun­tries have up­dated their laws to ac­com­mo­date LED light­bars, South Africa is still a long way from that. “In the US and Aus­tralia, reg­u­la­tions have started to ap­pear to make way for these new tech­nolo­gies,” says Mic. “In the Aus­tralian state of Queens­land you are even al­lowed lights on your roof rack now. But we’ve been talk­ing to au­thor­i­ties here in South Africa for over a year to adapt our leg­is­la­tion – at least for one light­bar – with­out suc­cess.” So for now, hav­ing an LED light­bar on your ve­hi­cle when you drive on a pub­lic road re­mains il­le­gal in SA. And the rea­son, as ex­plained by Alta Swanepoel pre­vi­ously, re­mains the same: All the lights at the front of your ve­hi­cle must be at equal dis­tances from an imag­i­nary cen­tral line. To un­der­stand where this line sits, draw an imag­i­nary line from top to bot­tom through the badge on your ve­hi­cle’s grill. That’s the cen­tral line and lights must be at equal dis­tances to the side of it. This reg­u­la­tion cre­ates an is­sue for solid LED light­bars and many ve­hi­cles with them are re­jected at test­ing sta­tions be­cause they are fit­ted as one long light over this cen­tral line on a bull bar or grill. But Mic adds that peo­ple need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween the le­gal­ity of the lights and their use, as some peo­ple he en­coun­ters mis­un­der­stand that. “LED light­bars are not il­le­gal, it’s the use that’s the is­sue,” he ex­plains. “There’s noth­ing pro­hibit­ing you from fit­ting them to a trac­tor, farm bakkie or your dune toy. Hav­ing them on a ve­hi­cle on a pub­lic road is the prob­lem.” Un­for­tu­nately the re­al­ity is that a ve­hi­cle’s fac­tory lights are sim­ply not good enough in ev­ery ap­pli­ca­tion you might have for them, he says. “If you’re driv­ing on a pitch-black dirt road or a de­serted gravel road far from civil­i­sa­tion you want to see as far as pos­si­ble. And where an­i­mals might ap­pear un­ex­pect­edly from the grass you need lights that can il­lu­mi­nate the area around your ve­hi­cle bet­ter than its stan­dard lights. I’m not say­ing we want au­thor­i­ties to al­low 20 lights that are so strong they melt the bull­bar, but we’d re­ally like the gov­ern­ment to come up with modern, sen­si­ble laws.” In the mean­time, Iron­man’s so­lu­tion is two sep­a­rate LED lights that you can mount at the front of your ve­hi­cle. “They’re le­gal since they sit to the sides of the cen­tral line and they work re­ally well. LEDs spread their light closely around your ve­hi­cle. That helps you to spot an­i­mal eyes much quicker, be­fore they jump in front of your ve­hi­cle.” LED lights also last longer than other lights and use very lit­tle power. “The new ones are also much bet­ter than the orig­i­nals at cast­ing a light beam at a dis­tance,” he adds. “And the more power your lights need, the less fuel you use, of course.” The law isn’t very re­stric­tive when it comes to LEDs ei­ther. “There isn’t ac­tu­ally any spe­cific leg­is­la­tion for them around light beam or in­ten­sity, so the au­thor­i­ties aren’t likely to give you trou­ble with a qual­ity, ap­proved prod­uct.”

GEN­ERAL RULES TO RE­MEM­BER

Mic has the fol­low­ing dos and don’ts for lights at the front of your ve­hi­cle: • You are not al­lowed any more than six lights. That doesn’t in­clude in­di­ca­tors or day­time run­ning lights that form part of the head­light cas­ing. • You must have an equal amount of lights (but re­mem­ber, the of­fi­cers count light cas­ings and not in­di­vid­ual LEDs).

No lights are al­lowed over the imag­i­nary cen­tral line of your ve­hi­cle. No light may pro­trude above your bon­net. You can’t mount lights on your roof rack or roof. A few ex­cep­tions have been made – for the pre­vi­ous Nis­san X-Trial, Jeep Chero­kee KJ and Toy­ota FJ Cruiser – but that was be­cause those ve­hi­cles were de­signed that way. Even if you drive one of these ve­hi­cles, don’t try to re­place those lights with an af­ter­mar­ket prod­uct. Mic drives the pre­vi­ous FJ and got a fine for do­ing just that. Any ex­tra lights need two switches: one to switch them off sep­a­rately from the other lights and one to switch them on with the brights. So your ex­tra lights can only be switched on with the brights or not at all. You can’t have any coloured af­ter­mar­ket lights on your ve­hi­cle. Yel­low (like the old halo­gen fog lights) are per­mis­si­ble, as are the newer HID lights that emit a bright white that looks slightly blue.

AD­VICE FROM DAR­REN MAGER­MAN FROM DEKRA IN CAPE TOWN

Re­plac­ing the globe in your ve­hi­cle’s stan­dard head­light cas­ing with HIDs will def­i­nitely get flagged at the test­ing sta­tion. LED lights are le­gal, but be aware of the light’s in­ten­sity as well as the height and an­gle at which it casts its light. “A sharp test­ing of­fi­cial will even check if your lights have the nec­es­sary SABS ap­proval on them,” he says. If you’re un­sure about any of this, take your ve­hi­cle with its new lights to an auto elec­tri­cian like Mo­tolek. If you’ve fit­ted new lights, take your ve­hi­cle to a test­ing sta­tion to make sure the lights cast their beams cor­rectly. Dekra tests specif­i­cally for align­ment, height and road­side il­lu­mi­na­tion. Lights that shine too high or skew will get you in trou­ble (not to men­tion they’ll be blind­ing mo­torists driv­ing at high speed to­wards you).

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