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