We recently reported here about the autolichtblog traffic survey. One surprising result was that many cars were still travelling with only their parking lights on even in late twilight or in the dark.
Why is that? Is it ignorance, intentional?
It is neither. One possible explanation is the light switch on some newer cars with a light assistant. It does a fairly good job of regulating the lights automatically, and would have already turned on the low beams at the time of our headlight survey. But a lot of drivers apparently have not yet become accustomed to the assistant, and want to turn on their lights manually. The switch foils them, however, in this case. In several car makes, the “off” position is followed by an automatic setting. The positions for parking lights and full headlights come after that in the clockwise direction. By force of habit, drivers confused by this will turn the switch two clicks, which in the past would have brought them to the low beam setting. Today it is only the parking lights.
The automotive industry should rethink the logic of such switches.
This explanation naturally is erroneous when it comes to older cars, or those without light assistants. Another reason for using the wrong light could be the increased presence of daytime running lights on roads. Some drivers may confuse them with the parking lights, and view the latter as sufficient. Incidentally, the same effect was and is observed on Scandinavian roads, where foreign drivers will see natives driving with the daytime running lights. On the older Volvos and Saabs, they are in the same place as the parking lights. Consequently – or rather, incorrectly – foreigners follow suit and switch on their parking lights, which are much too weak. They have only five watts, while daytime running lights shine with 21 watts.
In some cars, the switch for the lights is hidden cleverly on the turn signal lever, meaning that drivers unfamiliar with the vehicle must search for it first. That can be dangerous, especially when the hunt begins while on the road. Hopefully, their attempts to turn on the complete set of lights is successful by the time they reach their destination. But it can happen that someone ends up driving unintentionally through a bright starry night with the front and rear fog lights on, or even with the high beams glaring the whole time. Drivers and other road users might be happy to have a light assistant in these situations, to skillfully operate the right headlamps and lights.