Shed­ding some light on the var­i­ous types and when they should be used

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

Can I start by say­ing some­thing akin to ‘in the good old days’? For ex­am­ple, back in the 1960s, go­ing for a war­rant of fit­ness (WOF) was a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward task. I re­call tak­ing my 1936 Mor­ris Eight to what was then the ‘Test­ing Sta­tion’, in Taka­puna, and, in those days, I was asked to op­er­ate the lights while the Test­ing Sta­tion chap placed the light thingy (a large white board with cur­tain tracks run­ning both hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal) in front of the car and ad­just­ing each wire to in­di­cate the cen­tre point of each beam, then walk­ing back­wards down the lane some dis­tance to ob­serve ex­actly where the lights in­di­cated on the board, which in turn dic­tated if they need ad­just­ment. Prob­lem was that, when he looked down at the board, there was no light show­ing! (You know, the lights were on but no­body was at home!). This was due in part to the fact that the Mor­ris still had the old sil­ver-plated re­flec­tors and 6V bulbs, and, in day­light, get­ting any kind of im­age on the board at 25 feet was never go­ing to work. He looked at me for sug­ges­tions, where­upon I said, “How about bring­ing the board closer?” At about 10 feet, there was a faint light in­di­ca­tion, so that con­sti­tuted a ‘pass’ — af­ter I ex­plained that I was not about to race away and con­vert the sys­tem to sealed beams, although that was a com­mon res­o­lu­tion at that time. In any event, the only fool­proof method I had for be­ing able to tell if the lights were on at night (apart from look­ing at the light switch), was (and only if it was rain­ing) my be­ing able to see the rain­drops in the faint glow emit­ted from the aged lights im­me­di­ately in front of the glass — and that was as­sum­ing that the pa­thetic elec­tric wind­screen wipers were work­ing at a faster rate than piti­fully slow!

Twin lights

The Ze­phyrs were slightly more in­ter­est­ing, in that, in the case of the con­vert­ible, it was fit­ted with twin lights on the over­rid­ers — one driv­ing light and one fog light. Now, back in the day, there was this dumb rule that dic­tated that aux­il­iary lights could only be used when on full beam, so one or two of the more ‘pre­cious’ testers would look for the switch(es) to turn on the aux­il­iary lights to see if they were op­er­a­ble other than via the car’s head­lamp switch, so they could stamp ‘fail’ on the sheet. For­tu­nately, many testers were un­fa­mil­iar with Ze­phyrs and Zo­di­acs, and didn’t re­al­ize that those two nice iden­ti­cal switches on the dash and ad­ja­cent to the wiper switch ac­tu­ally turned on the fog lamp and driv­ing (spot) lamps. A de­fence to hav­ing such lights wired separately (even though this was a fac­tory op­tion) was to re­move the fuse prior to en­ter­ing the test­ing sta­tion and just say, “They’re not work­ing”, where­upon the tester would give the light­ing a tick (pass). Very few testers spot­ted my yel­low bulbs, and, when they did, I just re­minded them that yel­low bulbs were op­tional orig­i­nal equip­ment, and, with a flour­ish, pre­sented the pe­riod ad­ver­tise­ments for said yel­low bulbs as ev­i­dence — along with my NZTA ex­emp­tion let­ter for all the stick­ers!

With the ad­vent of Ja­panese im­ports in the mid to late 1980s, many such cars had driv­ing lights wired separately, so (you guessed it!) it wasn’t long be­fore the deal­ers lob­bied gov­ern­ment agen­cies to change the light­ing re­quire­ments for WOF pur­poses to save said deal­ers megabucks for hav­ing to re­wire such lights that in­fringed the specs of the day.

Hav­ing said all that, one of the more use­ful parts of the WOF test­ing regime for lights was to en­sure that they were ad­justed cor­rectly. By that I mean that when lights were on high beam, for ex­am­ple, they did not light up nearby planes fly­ing at low al­ti­tude or shine di­rectly into the path of an on­com­ing ve­hi­cle. The down­side to this part of the test was that there was no com­pen­sa­tion for any ve­hi­cle that had sev­eral dozen con­crete blocks in the trunk or was tow­ing a heavy trailer! Thus, a car may well have had con­form­ing lights at the time of the test, but when a heavy trailer was fit­ted or a heavy load placed in the boot, the lights would be raised up past the limit, and we all know what ef­fect that has on on­com­ing traf­fic.

Flash­ing lights

As an aside, an­other is­sue that I have had with lights is that when I’ve taken my ex–min­istry of Trans­port (MOT) Honda CB650PZ, still with all its orig­i­nal pa­trol lights, etc., fit­ted, there has been the odd oc­ca­sion when I have been failed and told to re­move them. As these bikes were sold new to any­one (not just the MOT and var­i­ous traf­fic de­part­ments), the lights are per­fectly le­gal. It is, how­ever, il­le­gal to ride around with them flash­ing — ob­vi­ously! I’ve taken to car­ry­ing around some pa­per­work that con­firms the le­gal­ity of the lights — but I shouldn’t have to.

How­ever, I cer­tainly wouldn’t like to be a tester these days, es­pe­cially in re­la­tion to light­ing. Back in the good old days, it was an of­fence to have any colour of light other than white show­ing to the front, but now it would seem that any­thing is per­mis­si­ble given the mul­ti­coloured vari­a­tions seen at night. An­other dis­turb­ing fac­tor is the cur­rent id­iot bri­gade that wants to make it com­pul­sory for ve­hi­cles to be made to have head­lamps on at all times, pre­sum­ably to en­able the ve­hi­cles to be seen more eas­ily. I guess when you have your eyes cast down­wards to your mo­bile phone, some sort of early warn­ing sys­tem is re­quired to alert the numb­skull to the fact that they are about to hit some­one! But, with the av­er­age age of our fleet be­ing 14-plus years old, it would be fair to say that many of our older ve­hi­cles could not be driven for any lengthy pe­riod with lights on, lest their bat­tery fail, as their ear­lier charg­ing sys­tems were not de­signed for lights on at all times.

Dif­fer­ent types

So let’s have a quick look at the dif­fer­ent types of lights. The ‘fog light’ is self-ex­plana­tory — that is for use in fog. Un­for­tu­nately, very few of our cur­rent drivers know this. The fog light/ lamp pro­vides a wide nar­row beam to en­able the driver to see more of the pe­riph­eral view of the coun­try­side, as well as di­rectly in front of the car. A ‘driv­ing light’ (also known as a ‘spot light’) pro­vides a more pow­er­ful beam of light ahead, in ex­cess of that nor­mally pro­vided by your head­lights on full beam. Some of the mod­ern cars now have ‘driv­ing lights’, which are merely lights to have on dur­ing the day (as per cur­rent reg­u­la­tions), as op­posed to nor­mal head­lights. Mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cles must have the head­light on at all times, and some of the lat­est mod­els have spe­cific ‘driv­ing lights’ to en­able this, rather than re­ly­ing sim­ply on the head­lights. How­ever, again, some of the mo­tor­cy­cle and scooter fleet were not de­signed to be run with the head­lights on at all times, thus are ex­empt, but it still poses the ques­tion, if a mo­torist can­not see an­other ve­hi­cle or mo­tor­cy­cle un­less they have their head­lights on, shouldn’t they be go­ing to Spec­savers?

I’m not a so­cial-me­dia per­son (Twit­ter would seem to be for twits in my book, and my only ex­pe­ri­ence with a Face­book was when a teacher whacked me on the head with a book at school) but read­ing some of the var­i­ous threads on so­cial me­dia about peo­ple driv­ing with their lights on full beam and sim­i­lar in­fringe­ments makes wor­ry­ing read­ing, es­pe­cially one or two of the re­me­dial ac­tions rec­om­mended by some of the trolls.

Mo­tor­ing can still be an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence, so long as one pays at­ten­tion to the road ahead. On­com­ing traf­fic is eas­ily ob­served by glanc­ing out the front wind­screen — if you can tear your eyes away from your mo­bile phone!

Drive care­fully out there — the life you save might be mine!

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