Daytime running lights

ACRS Policy Position

Daytime running lights are a proven safety measure overseas and have been estimated to be able to prevent up to 11% of multi-vehicle severe crashes, and up to 12% of pedestrian fatal crashes in Australia.  ADR 76/00 for daytime running lights should be made mandatory.

Objective

To reduce the incidence of crashes by improving vehicle conspicuity

Discussion

Daytime running lights have been required in several northern hemisphere countries since being mandated in Finland, initially on a restricted basis, in 1972.  Hungary and Canada require daytime running lights as do all Scandinavian countries. 

Daytime running lights are forward facing white lights that allow vehicles to be seen better in daylight.  There are several forms (low beam headlights, dimmed high beam headlights or a dedicated light with a defined beam pattern and light intensity) but all are wired so that they are on when the engine is running.  Increased intensity turn signals have also been used.  Daytime running lights that do not use normal headlights must be deactivated whenever normal headlights come on.

There are several important characteristics of lights to be used as daytime running lights.  They must be bright enough to attract attention and to increase detectability of oncoming vehicles but not so bright as to cause glare.  Beam pattern controls glare and affects detectability and also the extent to which the light can be seen with peripheral vision.  Low beam headlights are not very efficient in this way and reflect light upwards on wet roads, increasing glare when visibility is already poor.  High beams if used have to be dimmed in intensity.

Daytime running lights are not mandatory in Australia.  Australian Design Rule ADR 76/00 sets out requirements for optional lamps.  ADR 76/00 calls up ECE Regulation 87. 

Numerous studies of the effectiveness of daytime running lights have been conducted over the last three decades.  Paine(1) found that according to European studies the potential savings from DRLs are

·        25% of daytime multi-vehicle fatal crashes

·        28% of daytime fatal pedestrian crashes

·        20% of daytime multi-vehicle injury crashes

·        12% of daytime multi-vehicle property crashes.

The largest savings from daytime running lights would be in high severity crashes, including head-on and intersection crashes. 

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) noted that it was uncertain how well findings like these would apply in lower latitude countries, but that it was likely they would prevent 5-10% of daytime multiple vehicle crashes.  A study by General Motors in the US of the effects of DRLs on several passenger car makes showed a reduction in relevant multiple vehicle crashes in excess of 5% and a reduction in vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes of about 9%.  A study by ARRB concluded that Swedish findings of a reduction of 13% in multiple vehicle crashes would be applicable in Australia.

Based on RTA crash data for 2000 Paine concluded that full implementation of DRL in Australia would save:

·        Between 3% and 11% of non-pedestrian fatal crashes

·        Between 4% and 11% of non-pedestrian non-fatal crashes

·        Between 4% and 12% of all pedestrian fatalities.

There is potential for a significant safety advantage in fitting daytime running lights and few disadvantages.  Paine estimates that daytime running lights would cost about $50 fitted on the production line as original equipment and $200 retrofitted.  He estimated ongoing costs for dedicated DRL at a possible $7 per year for bulb replacement and the additional fuel used through more activation of the alternator to charge the battery.

ACRS counsels against the use of fog lights as daytime running lights.  Their intensity and beam pattern create glare under normal ambient light conditions, and result in discomfort and distraction to other road users. 

Reference:

Paine M (2003) A review of daytime running lights Report by Vehicle Design & Research Pty Ltd to NRMA and RACV  Sydney, July