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What are Daytime running lights? Daytime running lights (DRLs) are a crash avoidance feature new to vehicles sold in the US, but they've been used for years in Canada and Scandinavia to help prevent crashes by making vehicles more conspicuous or visible to oncoming traffic.

What are the safety advantages of DRLs?  Daytime running lights are a low-cost method to reduce crashes. They are especially effective in preventing daytime head-on and front end collisions by increasing vehicle conspicuity and making it easier to detect approaching vehicles from farther away.

How effective are DRLs? Nearly all published reports Indicate DRLs reduce multiple­ vehicle daytime crashes. Evidence about DRLs effects on crashes comes from studies conducted In Scandinavia,, Canada, and the United States. A study examining the effect of Norway's DRL law from 1980 to 1990, found a 10 percent decline in daytime multiple-vehicle crashes. A Denmark study reported a 7 percent reduction in DRL relevant crashes in the first 15 months after DRL use was required and a 37 percent decline in left-turn crashes. In a second study covering two years and 9 months of Denmark's law, there was a 6 percent reduction in daytime multiple-vehicle crashes and a 34 percent reduction in left-turn crashes. A 1994 Transport Canada study comparing 1990 model year vehicles with DRLs to 1989 vehicles without them, found that DRLs reduced daytime multiple-vehicle crashes by 11 percent.

In the United States, a 1985 Institute study determined that commercial fleet passenger vehicles modified to operate with DRLs were involved in 7 percent fewer daytime multiple-vehicle crashes than similar vehicles without DRLs. A small-scale fleet study conducted in the 1960s found an 18 percent lower daytime multiple-vehicle crash rate for DRL-equipped vehicles. Multiparty daytime crashes account for about half or all police-reported crashes in the United States.

Where are DRLs required? Laws in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden require vehicles to operate with lights on during the daytime. There are two types of laws. Canada's requires vehicles to be equipped with DRLs. The other type of law - in effect in Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden - requires motorists to turn on their headlights if their vehicles do not have automatic DRLs. This kind of law applies to drivers only, and vehicles do not have to be specially equipped. In 1972, Finland mandated daytime running lights in winter on rural roads and a decade later made DRLs mandatory year-round. Sweden's Law took effect in 1977, Norway’s in 1986, Iceland’s in 1988, and Denmark's in 1990. Hungary has required drivers on rural roads to operate with vehicle lights on since 1993. Canada requires DRLs for vehicles made after December 1, 1989. No U.S. State mandates DRLs, although some require drivers to operate vehicles with lights on in bad weather.

Are DRLs available on vehicles in the United States? Offered on a handful of 1995 domestic and foreign model passenger cars, pickups, and sport utility vehicles, daytime running lights are becoming a more common feature. They are standard on all 1996 Cadillacs, Geos, Saabs, Suzukis, Volkswagens, and Volvos. They're also on Chevrolet’s Beretta, Cavalier, Corsica, S-series and C/K pickups, and Blazer, Suburban, and Tahoe; GMC Jimmy, Sierra, Sonoma, Suburban, and Yukon; Isuzu Hombre; Oldsmobile 88/LSS, 98, Achieva, Aurora, and Bravada; Pontiac Bonneville, Grand Am, and Sunfire; and Saturn sedans and wagons. They are options on Land Rovers.

Why has it taken so long to introduce DRLs in the United States? Some state lighting laws inadvertently prohibited DRLs until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA agreed to permit automakers to offer them on vehicles sold in all 50 states. This action, which preempted the state laws, followed a petition filed by General Motors. The Institute had filed a similar petition based on studies showing that DRLs are an inexpensive way to reduce daytime collisions between vehicles. After initially granting this petition, NHTSA terminated rulemaking in 1988, saying that the matter wasn't clearly a national safety issue and that auto manufacturers "tended to oppose, rather than support, the proposal”. NHTSA then changed course again, approving DRLs in 1993.

Will DRLs be effective in the United States? Countries where DRLs are required generally have lower levels or ambient light during winter and longer periods or dusk and dawn than the United States. Although studies have indicated that DRLs have reduced crashes in North America and Scandinavia, the impact they will have on U.S. crashes has not been fully determined since DRLs have been used only on a limited basis here. Positive effects found in Canada1s evaluation of DRLs are important because most or Canada's population is at a lower latitude than Scandinavia. Also, American DRLs are brighter than European DRLs. This should increase visual contrast between vehicles and their background despite brighter daylight conditions.

Will DRLs shorten headlamp bulb life or lower fuel economy? Running vehicle lights in the daytime does not significantly shorten bulb life. Systems like those on General Motors cars that use high beams are designed to operate at half their normal power during daylight hours, thereby conserving energy and reducing the effect on a vehicle's fuel economy. NHTSA estimates that only a fraction of a mile per gallon will be lost, depending on the type of system used. General Motors estimates the cost to be about $3 per year for the average driver. Transport Canada estimates the extra annual fuel and bulb replacement costs to be $3-15 for systems using reduced-intensity headlights or other low-intensity lights and more than $40 a year for DRL systems using regular low-beam headlights. Automakers will not be penalized for adding DRLs to their vehicles when they are tested for compliance with U.S. federal fuel economy standards. At NHTSA’ s request, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to disconnect DRLs before testing.

Will motorists be bothered by glare? Glare is not a major issue. NHTSA completed a study to determine if drivers were bothered by glare in their rearview and side-view mirrors from lights of cars behind them. At 7,000 candela, the maximum light intensity NHTSA set for DRLs, the steady light intensity would be only about one-eighth the level considered to cause discomfort. NHTSA tested vehicles with DRLs using reduced-power high beams mounted no higher than 34 inches. These are used on about 53 percent of Canadian vehicles and will be used in the United States.

Are motorcyclists required to have DRLs? Federal law does not require motorcycles to have DRLs, although all manufacturers voluntarily equip their cycles with such lights. Some states including California require the lights, and 22 states require motorcyclists to ride with their headlights on at all hours.

INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY, January 1996
1005 North Glebe, Arlington
, VA 22201 703-247-1500 FAX 703-247-16785

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, non-profit, scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses - death, injuries and property damage- from crashes on the nation’s highways. The Institute is wholly supported by auto insurers.

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