Reader Question: Automated Headlights?

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Heres’ the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Daniel asks: I’m noticing more drivers forgetting to turn on the headlights during night time driving. But then I see from my perch the instrument panel is lit up and yet it’s only the daytime running lights that are on. With the panel lit up the driver is thinking the headlights are on. And doesn’t know either way because the streetlights brighten the road plenty. After awhile I stopped getting the driver’s attention to his headlights. You’ll see the car’s ass is dark and the front has the DRL on. Safety has turned on its head. I don’t trust technology to hold my hand – one reason for buying a 1998 Dodge B3500. It’s young enough for OBD2 and old enough to not be complicated. I changed out my starter in the AutoZone parking lot avoiding the nuisance of a core charge and saved $200 doing it myself.

My reply: Amen.

I don’t wish for a return to hand-cranking engines, but “convenience” has run amok. It’s not physically or mentally taxing to turn on headlights. It’s a good thing, I think, to expect drivers to be conscious of changing conditions and expected to turn on their car’s lights as conditions warrant. This fosters alert driving, situational awareness. Which is the most important saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety feature there is.

But it is one that’s been undermined by automating practically everything in new cars, including headlights.

Almost all new cars have automated headlights and DRLs. So the driver becomes used to not thinking about his headlights and so doesn’t take action to turn them on (or off) in accordance with changing conditions.

And you may also have noticed that high beam glare is a worse problem now than it used to be because most new cars will also turn them on automatically (and constantly). The system will also turn them off when it “senses” oncoming traffic. But the system often doesn’t “sense” oncoming traffic as quickly as an alert human driver could have and – more importantly, a human driver (assuming good vision) would not be turning on his brights  constantly but only when conditions warranted. According to his judgment.

Driving is becoming immensely frustrating – and less safe – because of all this “safety.”

. . .

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  1. Wasn’t there a system in the 1950s that GM had called the Autronic Eye that automatically dimmed your headlights? It ran on vacuum tubes, and every time you went under a street light, it dimmed the headlights.

    • More than one high-end car had headlight sensors but I can’t recall any for ambient light. I may just have never experienced one.

      • I’ve always been sensitive to light so I hated when somebody failed to dim their lights.

        I was driving a almost new 74 Freightliner and it had some airplane landing lights below the front bumper. I’d use them when I was the only vehicle on the road and it was a great for not hitting animals and seeing hazards that are not easily seen.

        One night about 3am I’m heading down I 36 as we called it or Tx. 36 as it was designated. I about 15 miles north of Sealy Tx. when this car is approaching. We’re on a dead level, straight road so they’re especially bright lights and I flipped my highbeams on and off and nothing. So I do it again, still nothing. I was pissed at this point so I turned on those landing lights. It looked like that new DPS car went backward when those lights hit it. I was thinking “Oh shit, I’m in for it now” but the lights dimmed and the car never slowed. I guess we both knew I was making a valid point.

  2. I’m not keen on these systems which were reinforced again last evening. Nearly sundown but a cloud was above the horizon so when it should have been plenty bright, it was nearly dark.

    The wife’s driving and she’s clueless. I notice the dash lights weren’t on(and they should have been) so I told her to turn on the headlights. Another source of frustration since she didn’t know how. A pre-screen bs everything pickup and she can’t figure out how to turn on the headlights….so I told her “the damned rotary knob over there” but it still took her a while to find even though there’s only one rotary knob.

    Headlight finally on and we’re approaching our turn when two vehicles, another dark charcoal vehicle like ours(don’t know why there are so many of them, they blend into pavement really well)and it’s headlights weren’t on and the main way I saw it was the vehicle behind it with its lights on. They’re doing 75 or better and it could have easily been a horrific wreck. People just “assume” their lights are on and as an old teacher used to say every time you used the word assume. “When you assume, you make an ASS of U and ME.” Or in the case of driving, you might make all of us dead.


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