Daytime running lights, headlights, fog lights and driving lights

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Daytime running lights - mandatory on vehicles in Europe - are increasingly present on cars in Australia. Just what is their role and how do they complement other forward facing vehicle lights.

The lights on your vehicle perform two very important functions. They light up the road in front of you - at night or in poor conditions - and they also make your car more visible to other road users.

They're so important that their design and function is mandated by a myriad of Australian Design Rules (ADR) - such as ADR 13/00 - Installation of Lighting and Light Signalling Devices on other than L-Group Vehiclesi - for new vehicles and by Australian Vehicle Standardsii to ensure that vehicles in-service continue to meet the functionality required. In addition, their use is regulated by road rules across the country. These standards, regulations and rules aim to make driving safer by ensuring all vehicles have adequate lights and that those lights are not a hindrance to other drivers.

Lights means you can see the road and other road users can see your car.

Daytime Running Lights: Increasingly prevalent on cars in Australia, daytime running lights switch on automatically when the engine starts in order to increase the visibility of the vehicle to other road users in daylight. They generally switch off automatically when fog lights or headlights are oniii.

A study by the European Commission on Mobility and Transport showed daytime running lights had a high potential to improve road safetyiv. The study indicated that drivers felt that having these lights on constantly throughout the drive helped them identify and recognise other drivers earlieriv.

In Europe, daytime running lights have been mandatory on new cars and small delivery vans since February 2011, and on trucks and buses since August 2012v. In Australia, daytime running lights are not mandatory but are permitted. Their design is governed by Australian Design Rule 76/00 - Daytime Running Lampsvi. This stipulates that they are white in colour, have an illuminating surface area of 40cm2 and the minimum and maximum intensity of the light. Manufacturers are frequently using LED light arrays for daytime running lights.

Headlights: Headlights must be used from sunset to sunrise and when there is reduced visibility. For example, NSW's law defines reduced visibility as there being "sufficient visibility to see a person wearing dark clothing at a distance of 100 metres"vii.

Headlights are the combination of a high beam and a passing or low beam. Low beam is used when there is oncoming traffic, and is designed to avoid causing undue dazzle or discomfort. This is achieved by making the passing beam asymmetric: down and to the left in Australia where oncoming traffic passes on the rightviii.

The design rules for headlamps require them to "provide adequate illumination for the driver of the vehicle without producing undue glare for other road users". These lights commonly use halogen lamps, although the older non-halogen lamps are still defined in the design ruleviii. Manufacturers may also fit gas discharge lamps often called high-intensity discharge (HID) lampsix. HID headlamps may also be referred to as xenon headlamps or even metal halide lamps.

Fog lights: Fog lightsx are intended for use during conditions of poor visibility such as rain, fog, dust or snow, and it is frequently a requirement that they only be used in such conditionsvii, xi.

As is the case with all forward facing lights, fog lights should provide illumination without dazzling other driversx, xii. These lights must be switched on separately from main headlightsii.

Fog lights can be white or a selective yellowx. and may come with standard or gas discharge lamps (HID), or LEDs. If needed, fog lights may automatically adapt to dense fog or equal conditions of bad visibility by varying light intensities provided that an electric light source control gear is fitted to the fog lighting system and that all variations are proportionatex, xiii.

Glare from headlights can impact other drivers

Driving lights: Driving lights are usually installed at the same level as vehicle headlights, or higheri. They are used in conjunction with headlights, adding extra illumination that is particularly beneficial for country drivingxiv. Driving lights must be wired so that they can only turn on when high-beam is oni. In Victoria, driving lights may only be used when there are no other vehicles 200 metres in front of the vehicle, either approaching, or moving in the same directioniii.

Adaptive Front Lighting: Adaptive Front Lighting Systems (AFS) automatically adjust car lights according to driving conditions including bends, curves and intersections of the roadxv. Car models sold in Australia such as the Nissan Maximaxvi, Skoda Superb Sedanxvii, the Lexus GS350xviii and the Mazda 6xix with its new i-ActivSense system include AFS.

i Australian Government, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 13/00 - Installation of Lighting and Light Signalling Devices on other than L-Group Vehicles) 2005, 2009,

ii Australian Transport Council and National Transport Commission, Australian Vehicle Standards, pg. 47-48,

iii State Government Victoria, Vic Roads, Fog & Driving Lights,

iv The European Commission, Mobility and Transport, Road Safety,,

v European Union, Europa Press Releases Rapid, New cars equipped with daytime running lights as of today, 2011,

vi Australian Government, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 76/00 - Daytime Running Lamps) 2006 - F2006L02306, 2006,

vii NSW Government, Roads and Maritime Services, Road Users’ Handbook,

viii Australian Government, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 46/00 - Headlamps) 2006 - F2007C00601, 2007,

vix Australian Government, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 77/00 - Gas Discharge Headlamps) 2006 - F2006L02305, 2006.

x Australian Government, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 50/00 - Front Fog Lamps) 2006 - F2010C00412, 2010,

xi NSW Government, Roads and Maritime Services, Top 10 misunderstood road rules in NSW

xii Government of Western Australia, Department of Transport, Driver and Vehicle Services, Optional Front Lamps, Fitment and use, pg. 2.

xiii Mercedes-Benz, Intelligent Light System,

xiv Government of Western Australia, Department of Transport, Driver and Vehicle Services, Optional Front Lamps, Fitment and use, pg. 3.

xv United Nations, Uniform provisions concerning the approval of adaptive front-lighting systems (AFS) for motor vehicles, 2011

xvi Nissan, Nissan Maxima,

xvii Skoda, Skoda Superb,

xviii Lexus, Lexus GS350,

xix Mazda, Mazda 6,