Lighting Up Your Drive

With the evenings getting longer, and the morning sunlight getting gradually getting later as summer starts to turn to autumn, I have noticed more and more cars on my drive to work not having their headlights on. Now, this phenomenon could be due to people switching their modern cars' setting to 'auto' and mistakenly thinking/hoping that the car will take care of it for them, or it could be because, with the decline of the printed newspaper, the official 'lighting up times' are not now as widely known.

So, when should your lights be on?

What many may not realise is that within the UK there is a legally enforceable 'lighting up' time, which came in to force in 1907 and has gradually been amended and adapted as vehicle technologies and speeds changed.

Lighting up time is defined as "from one half-hour after sunset to one half-hour before sunrise". During this time all vehicles on unlit public roads, unless parked, must use their headlights. In 1989 the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations kept this requirement but added in the ruling that, between the hours of sunset and sunrise, conspicuity lights (at least side and tail lights) should be active on roads with streetlights, unless parked either in a designated parking place or facing the same way as adjacent traffic and more than 10 metres (33 ft) from the nearest junction on a road with a speed limit not exceeding 30mph.

When is sunset/sunrise?

Sunset and sunrise is defined within the regulations as the local sunset/sunrise, which means it differs for different parts of the country. There are plenty of websites available where you are able to add in your postcode to find out your local sunset/sunrise times, as well as ones where there is the average across the months.

Use of headlights in other conditions

Of course, you shouldn't just use your headlights during the hours of darkness. The Highway Code explicitly stating that you must use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when visibility is less than 100m (rule 226) and it recommends that you use dipped headlights in dull daytime weather to ensure you can be seen. (for guidance on when to use your lights in the fog, see our earlier article)

The latter point is especially pertinent to drivers of cars without daytime-running lights (DRLs) that are darker in colour (especially some shades of grey). When observing the drivers of these cars, I often recommend that on a typical winter's day they use their lights just to ensure they do not merge with the background sky. This is particularly important on fast-moving roads such as motorways and dual carriageways.

So, with “see and be seen “one of the key tenets of any driving, the next time you get behind the wheel take a couple of seconds to look outside, assess the conditions and check whether you are driving during “the hours of darkness”. If you are, stay safe and switch on some lights.

This post was written by Neil Lakeland, a National Observer and Training Officer for the Kent Group of Advanced Motorists 


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