Making light of it

Posted on December 30th, 2011 by James Luckhurst

Making light of itKlaus Winter likes nothing better than to be seen in his new Seat Ibiza. He’s clearly in love with the thing, and it stands to reason that he wants everyone else on the road to notice and admire him as he drives it proudly around the streets of Reading. Key to his strategy is the use of those lovely, powerful, “look-at-me” front fog lamps. Since he discovered how to turn them on, he never drives without them; after all, they ensure he has the high profile he wants on the road.

We’re out with traffic cop Martin Danks on a clear winter evening when we see the Ibiza coming. Winter is grumpy when Danks stops him and baffled when he discovers the reason. “Those front fogs are the coolest thing,” he insists. “What possible offence can I be committing and what’s the point of pulling me up when everyone else is doing the same thing?”

Does Winter have a point? Is it worth jumping on our high horse about something as petty as this? The police think so, because an explanation at this point could save him – and others – from a £30 fixed-penalty ticket in future. Check out The Highway Code if you’re unconvinced. In short, it’s illegal to use fog lamps – front or rear – unless visibility is down to 100 metres or less. That’s not the case when it’s simply raining, dark or misty.

In recent years, car makers have fitted front fog lamps to just about every new model. And jolly useful they can be, too – when it’s foggy. They illuminate the road surface below the fog in a way that headlights cannot; indeed headlights tend to be reflected back into your eyes by the water vapour in the air, impairing your vision even further – especially on main beam. Fog lamp deflectors are specifically designed to spread the light beam lower and wider over a shorter distance. In this way, progress in foggy conditions can be much safer.

However, fog lamps bring no benefits unless it’s foggy. Using them at other times is thoughtless, and that’s exactly what every half-decent driver on the road will think of you. It might feel cool to drive with all your lights on, but you’re actually identifying yourself as a bit of a fool.
More important, spare a thought for the oncoming drivers you’re blinding, and for the driver in front who’s being dazzled by the spectacular light-show in his rear-view mirror. You might prompt him to switch it to the dimmer setting, or even force him to stop using his mirrors altogether. And at night, a dazzled driver is less able to spot a hazard until his eyes readjust to the darkness; your fog lamps could be responsible for someone else’s fatal accident. And that’s definitely not cool.

So as you switch off the Christmas lights for another year, do the same with your fog lamps – until you really need them.