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Having a Hard Time Seeing at Night? Maybe Your Headlights Aren't Turned On

Having a Hard Time Seeing at Night? Maybe Your Headlights Aren't Turned On

If you have trouble seeing while you’re driving at night, your daytime running lights might be the problem

  • We're seeing lots of people driving in the dark without their headlights on.
  • Modern technology is primarily to blame.
  • Canada has done something about the problem.
  • You can be a part of the solution.

Have you noticed how many people are driving around without their headlights turned on after dark? Usually, you spot these motorists from behind because their taillights are not illuminated, and all you can see are the red reflectors. Peer inside, and it's obvious what's happening. Their interiors are lit up like a Christmas tree, but their front daytime running lights are on so they have no idea that other drivers can't see them.

Why is this problem getting worse?

As more modern vehicles adopt fully digital instrumentation, the problem is getting worse, and it's an easy mistake to make. In fact, it recently happened to me while driving a 2022 BMW X3.

On my first night with the vehicle, while driving at dusk in a well-lit suburban area, I assumed the headlights were on. The instrumentation display, infotainment screen, secondary controls and ambient lighting were all illuminated, and the beams from what I thought were my headlights reflected off the back of vehicles I followed in traffic.

The next day, I parked the BMW while the sun was still up and returned to it after dark. The area in which I had parked had no streetlights, and, after starting the engine, it was immediately apparent to me that something was not right. Sure enough, the BMW's headlight controls were in the off position instead of auto.

Of course, I felt like an idiot for driving with the headlights off the evening before. But in my defense, why would any car company think it's a good idea to provide full interior illumination if the headlights are not switched on? After dark, any vehicle's secondary switchgear and steering wheel controls should be difficult to see until the headlights are active. Period.

Isn't there a way to easily solve this problem?

To BMW's credit, the taillights illuminate after dark even if the headlights are not on. But this isn't the case with every vehicle, as is evident on the nation's highways every night of the week.

Canadian authorities agree that interior lighting should be unavailable when the headlights are switched off after dark. As of September 2021, new vehicles sold there cannot provide instrumentation lighting when the headlights are off. Just like it was in the good old days, in Canada, if you can't see your controls at night, that's an indication that your daytime running lights are on instead of your headlights.

Daytime running lights, or DRLs, are not required in the U.S. However, they are mandated in so many other parts of the world that we get them anyway. While studies vary concerning how effective they are, DRLs are now a design element for many automakers, and they're here to stay. Now, we just need automakers to broadly adopt Canada's new law and apply the same approach to vehicles sold in the States.

What can I do to reduce the number of vehicles driving without the lights turned on?

What can you do about this problem? First, if you own a vehicle with automatic headlights, check to make sure the headlight switch is set to auto. Unless there's a fault in your lighting system, that should take care of the issue. Also, you can look for an icon within the instrumentation that indicates the headlights are on.

Second, if you spot someone on the highway driving with only running lights on, you can flash your headlights to send a signal. You won't have a 100% success rate — remember, they think their lights are already active — but it's worth trying.

Third, tell your family members, friends and co-workers to check their automatic headlights, if equipped. Remind them that for their automatic headlights to work, the switch needs to be in auto mode.

Edmunds says

Any vehicle in which the instrumentation, infotainment system, and controls are lit after dark — whether or not the headlights are active — is a prime candidate for this error. So, whether it's your car, a rental vehicle, or one that a family member or friend drives, do your part and make sure that the headlight switch is set to auto. And then leave it that way.