DRLs – should they be toned down?

Posted on September 30th, 2011 by Rob Marshall

Being dazzled during winter driving is to be expected. Inappropriate use of either main beam lights or fog lamps continues to be one of the more popular pursuits of the selfish driver, who might be blissfully unaware of the discomfort he (or she) might be dishing out to other road users.

Yet, I have been startled several times by oncoming vehicles, during daylight hours in mid-summer, and I cannot ‘blame’ the person behind the wheel, my wrath being directed instead at not only the maker of the car but also the European Union. Since February, any new make of car sold in Europe has to be fitted with Daylight Running Lights (DRLs) to its front. Although this has confused some car buyers (and journalists), the European legislation decrees that the date is not for every car registered from February but any car model that received its European Type Approval from that date. Therefore, you can still buy new examples of older models, which are sold legally without these lamps.

Even so, some car models have had high-intensity LED bulbs fitted for several years and, according to my 30 year-old eyes, they are a little too intense. Of course, the whole reason for Brussels’ decree was to enhance road safety but the risk of dazzling other road users appears to be an unconsidered consequence.

It also appears that some carmarkers have entered the world of vanity with their DRLs, especially with a myriad of strange designs and the multiplicity of dazzling bright LEDs becoming prominent on many models. Maybe the bureaucrats in Brussels should have expended more time on legislating the position of such lamps.

Yet, it was not always like this. During the 1970s and 80s, British regulations stipulated that dip-beam headlamps were too bright for continuous use on British roads. Therefore, some cars that were fitted with DRLs as standard (mainly Scandinavian models) had to have their continually-running dipped beam headlamps curtailed to a reduced brightness for the UK market, which straddled the parking lamp and dip-beam mode in intensity. An oncoming car could still be seen safely, yet the lamps were not so bright that they would dazzle.

Due to this, the pictured 1988 Volvo has headlamps with four modes: parking lamp, daytime running lamp, dipped beam and main beam. This British legislation was dropped by the early 1990s, as European pressure built to harmonise requirements across the member states, and so the low-intensity DRL was abandoned.

My argument is that what is suitable for Scandinavia is not necessarily the ideal for more southern-based nations in the Union. With some of the latest models featuring incredibly bright DRLs, one wonders whether this UK-specific statute should be re-introduced or not, if only the Europeans would permit it.