The trouble with automatic lights

Posted on November 30th, 2015 by Rob Marshall


The modern car is a technological marvel but some developments appear to make certain drivers reliant on equipment that is not always well considered. Now we are well into the season, when dipped beams are needed frequently to both see and be seen, I shall turn my ire to automatically activated headlights.

These systems sense the intensity of daylight, as well as several other parameters, including whether, or not, the windscreen wipers are activated, to determine when the dipped beam should be activated, without further intervention from the driver. Unfortunately, from my observations of fellow motorists, it appears that the technology seems to be taking over, ironically, at the expense of safety.

For starters, automatically activated headlights appear to be very poor at switching themselves on in foggy conditions. On cars equipped with daytime running lights, which are not dimmed/switched off unless dipped beam is selected, oncoming traffic is at the risk of being dazzled but the rear lamps on many cars tend not to be illuminated at all, when the daytime running lights are operating at full intensity, adding to the potential risk of a rear-end impact.

Depending on the make-and-model, some systems appear to delay switching on, until it is too dark. With cars not fitted with daytime running lights, the driver risks not being seen and, again, with daytime running lights fitted, their brightness and lack of focus risks excessive glare to oncoming traffic. Conversely, some automatically activated lights are too sensitive, in that dipped beam is activated and switched off quickly, when the car enters a temporary low-light situation, such as when travelling beneath a railway bridge. I have experienced this several times, thinking that an oncoming driver is flashing his/her headlights at me (which they might have been!)..

My car is fitted with this technology but I have taken control and deactivated the system. Now, I have the luxury of being able to switch my own lights on and off, because I feel that the driver should be able to assess more accurately the surrounding conditions, compared to a sensor that is mounted to the windscreen.