The True History of DRLs

  • January 11, 2024

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of Safetyism is that it’s actually about money. Daytime Running Lights – the always-on headlights that almost all new vehicles come standard with – are an excellent case-in-point.

Before the mid-late 1980s, it was uncommon to see a car with its headlight lights on in broad daylight, it being stupid and obnoxious to drive around in broad daylight with your car’s headlights on.

Then along came GM.

GM wanted to save some money, but it needed an excuse to do it. That excuse was  . . . safety. Here are the facts:

GM had (and still has) plants in Canada and sells a lot of vehicles in Canada. At the time, Canada had a requirement that vehicles burn their headlights in daylight hours because in parts of Canada, there is less daylight during the daytime, especially toward the end of the day – due to Canada being closer to the North pole. So GM was obliged to install the necessary lighting systems in the vehicles it sold in Canada, to comply with the Canadian requirement.

But there was no such requirement in America – there being (usually) plenty of daylight in America during the daytime hours. The vehicles GM made for the American market had different lighting systems than the ones GM installed in Canadian-market versions of the same vehicles. The cost-per-vehicle was small but when you factor the cost out over hundreds of thousands of vehicles, it becomes not-small.

GM’s solution? Make Daytime Running Lights standard equipment in all the vehicles it sold – and sell this stupid and obnoxious feature as a saaaaaaaaaaaaaafety feature. GM could preen – and pocket – at the same time! Other car companies saw – and followed suit. And that is why almost all vehicles currently on the market have headlights that cannot be turned off, which is more than just stupid and obnoxious.

It is wasteful – and unsafe.

Wasteful ought to be obvious. Burning headlights all the time burns them out sooner, necessitating their replacement earlier than would otherwise be the case. And since headlights have evolved in complexity since the ’80s, the cost of replacing headlights has gone up from what used to be $25 or so for a  sealed beam glass headlight to twice as much as that for the LED bulb that is used in many late-model headlight assemblies. GReen Communists also ought to be “concerned” about the the additional burning of gas and the attendant additional “emissions” of the dread gas carbon dioxide that attends burning headlights constantly. To keep those headlights burning, it is necessary to keep that engine running (and the alternator charging).

Never mind – because it’s “safer” . . . right?

Arguably, it isn’t.

In the first place, having two-out-of-three vehicles on the road with their headlights on in broad daylight creates visual clutter. It is much more difficult to see motorcycles and emergency vehicles (and funeral processions) today because of all those always-on headlights. Before DRLs were oilily made standard equipment in so many vehicles, motorcycles and emergency vehicles and funeral processions were much easier to see in the crowd.

And seeing is safe.

Not being able to isn’t.

This brings up the glare created by always-on headlights, especially in daytime. You have probably had your eyes blinded by the light, to borrow a line from Manfred Mann and the Earth Band. Headlights on in daytime – especially modern-car high-intensity headlights – can do just that.

Which brings us to the issue of unintended consequences.

All GM intended to do by standardizing DRLs on all the vehicles it made was to save itself money (and thereby make some money). But this savings has come at a cost, one that can be measured in more than dollars and cents and – if you are a Green Communist – the increased wastage and “emissions” of the dread gas carbon dioxide that results from all those headlights on, all the time.

Safetyism is dangerous. It engenders new problems in the process of ostensibly addressing existing ones. As for example the Advanced Safety Technologies now standard in pretty much every new vehicle, along with DRLs. These incentivize inattention and discourage the developing of driving skills by encouraging drivers to depend on “technology” to “keep them safe.” When the “technology” glitches, it is no longer very safe.

Another example is federal impact-resistance requirements. Modern cars can absorb a rear-ender better than old cars made before the current requirements went into effect. But modern cars also have chest-high asses and are so difficult to see behind that cameras are required to see what’s behind them – in order to avoid backing up over a kid who might happen to be there.

Such pros and cons are of course part and parcel of just about everything in life. But there is something worse than merely obnoxious and stupid when the pros and cons are imposed by others who arrogantly presume to make these value judgments for you.

. . .

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