Mouth froth courtesy of Jacob Black

Dear automotive makers,

You have the technology to do one simple, life-saving thing. It’s something the motorcycle industry did some 30-odd years ago. Something you clearly have the technology to do. Something you won’t do for goodness knows what reason.

Turn. Our. Lights. On.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not hard. Studies around the world have shown that having your lights on minimizes crashes. That’s why on “No Crash Day” everyone is encouraged to switch them on. That’s why in many places it’s the law – you must turn on your headlights on any major highway. Doing so makes your car more visible, even in bright sunshine.

Then you get somewhere like Canada. Sometime around August the sun turns into Piglet and begins to get very afraid and runs away very early in the day. You get a lot of grey days, a lot of almost-dark-but-not-quite-dark-hey-is-that-another-car-or-is-that-a-large-raccoon days. And on those days, those of us who use our automatic headlights understandably think the car will sort it out for you.

It doesn’t.

It should, and in some cases it does. But it doesn’t. I was in a Lexus the other week that wouldn’t turn the lights on unless it was pitch black. One week later, I’m in a Ford Flex, which turned the lights on and off six times – while I was standing still at a traffic light.

And we haven’t even touched on the fact that Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) only operate the headlamps, not the tail lamps. Nor the way so many people seem to think those DRLs are suitable for all conditions up to and including midnight snow storms!

If ever there was an example of designers and engineers being too clever for their own good, this is it. I’m reminded of the fable about the space programs of the USA and Russia. The USA (so the story goes), spent millions developing a pen that can write in zero gravity – the Seinfeld pen. Russia, on the other hand, used a pencil.

2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe headlight2015 Honda Fit headlight2015 Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited headlight
2015 BMW 428i Gran Coupe, Honda Fit, Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited headlights. Click image to enlarge

The motorcycle industry is clearly the “Russia” in this situation. Faced with the same problem they looked at it, went “Is there any reason not to turn on the lights? No? Okay, let’s turn them on all the time then”.

It’s the simplest, most elegant and easy solution to the problem you can possible have. There is absolutely no reason, none at all why you wouldn’t want your lights (taillights and headlights) to be turned on at all times.

So the simple solution is this: Wire up your lights to be “on” or “off”. Wire them to the ignition switch and the door locks. Ignition off + door lock on for 90 seconds = all lights off. Just like motorcycles already do – well, except the door lock bit.

There is no need for light sensors, light meters, three-stage, six-stage, eight-stage lighting systems. Lights on. Lights off. High beam, low beam. Bada-bing, bada boom.  Job done.

If lights were turned on by default all the time, we wouldn’t have to double check for idiots in grey cars driving sans illumination in sodden rain. We wouldn’t almost rear end someone at night because they’re tootling along with no taillights on. If lights were turned on by default all the time, there’d be less head-on collisions, less people pulling out in front of other cars, less crashes, less injuries, even lower insurance!

2015 Jaguar XFR-S headlight2015 Subaru Outback headlight2015 Hyundai Genesis headlights
2015 Jaguar XFR-S, Subaru Outback, Hyundai Genesis headlights. Click image to enlarge

And the best part? We wouldn’t have to find a way to mime “turn your lights on” to oblivious, cud-chewing, mouth-breeding numbskulls wobbling around on the road at night. No more “jazz hands”, no more miming the action of turning the stalk switch.

“No, I’m not showing you the size of my stalk, I’m demonstrating the action you need to do with yours!”

We have the most intrusive and comprehensive set of nanny-state features on our cars today, but the one, simple thing that could make a serious impact is ignored.

The simple solutions are often the best. Come on manufacturers, do the smart thing. Turn on our bloody lights.

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