Reader Question: Flashing Lights?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Gage asks: I keep seeing motorcycles with their headlights flashing; at first I thought it was some sort of mechanical problem or the biker was trying to signal something, like a warning about a speed trap ahead. But I have seen this numerous times now and the lights seem to flash continuously. Do you know what this is all about?

My reply: Yes. It is a counter to the problem created by Daytime Running Lamps (DRLs). Those always-on headlights that a majority of new and late model cars are hard-wired with now. DRLs have made it much harder for motorcycles to stand out in traffic. In the past, before DRLs, only motorcycles (and funeral processions) burned their headlights in the daylight. The headlight-on thus gave motorcycles additional visibility, which they need because so many people do not see them.

Well, now they don’t – again.

A bike with its headlights burning is lost among the cars with their headlights burning. So many motorcycle riders have added a flasher system to their headlights that does just that – with the idea being to make the bike more visible to the cars that might otherwise turn in front of it – and so on.

I personally don’t dig it – because it adds to the visual clutter problem. Which could be better addressed by nixing DRLs and returning to the days when drivers only burned their headlights when it was getting dark out.

. . .

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  1. As far as DRLs, they fall under the same category as 3rd taillight. When first suggested and test runs are made (often on government compounds like military bases) comments about their added visibility are overwhelmingly favorable. Of course they will be. They are different. But with widespread use, they become commonplace and are not only unnoticeable, but the tendency is to sublimate them as an annoyance, not only reducing their advantage, but to negate them.

    • Real-world parallel. Genii at our GM plant installed a red light on die-casting equipment that flashed each time the machine cycled. The theory was that it would alert the operator of a failure if it stayed on. I said it would not work. it didn’t. The operators just tuned it out as a nuisance. They finally wired it so it only came on with a failure of a certain duration. Guess what?

  2. I once read that the flashing lights, if in the period of about 4 Hz, were effective in preventing accidents of the “I never saw him!” type. The theory given was that frequencies around 4 Hz had a shortcut to the centers of the brain that signal “Alert!”.

    My suspicion is that the wing-beat of the Pterodactyl was in that range, and the survivors passed along the defense mechanism. Anybody else?

  3. If I remember correctly, GM started the DRL and they were so damned bright they’d blind you in west Texas sun. It went on like that for two years and then their intensity was cut back because of so many complaints. Those multiple flashing LED’s around the actual headlights on the newest vehicles are not nearly as bad to me as DRL’s. LED headlights got to be the rage with their blue light and they only lasted a couple years since so many truckers complained about not having enough light. I never drove a truck with them but I heard truckers complain about their not having enough light.

  4. It is big problem for funeral processions as you indicated. We went through that last April. My mother died (92) a victim I think of the jab. We are a large family she has 38 grandchildren , I have over a hundred cousins. Plus good friends made for are large procession. The graveyard was about 15 miles away from the church. Probably 150 cars in the procession. It was a cluster f**k, non funeral people kept jumping in as the lights on were meaningless. A couple lights we went through were tough. I, as one of the lead vehicles charged through. But others were not so brave (or foolhardy) the problem was other people did not realize it was a funeral. If they had there would have been no problem. When my father died 25 years earlier, same (bigger, he was younger) procession, no problem, people realized it was funeral and acted accordingly.

    • Hi Ugg,

      Like you, I can recall the Before Time – the time prior to etiolations of the Safety Cult such as DRLs, a terrible and obnoxious idea foisted on the country by GM, chiefly. Which GM did because DRLs are required in Canada, where GM sells a lot of cars. GM did not want to have to build two lighting systems for the same car. So it began a PR campaign touting the . . . saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety of DRLs. They eventually became de facto standard in all new vehicles sold here, too.

    • Sometimes funeral processions will have the cars turn on their hazard lights. Also, funeral homes may work with local police to set up a car at intersections, esp. for larger processions.

      • I am going to be a little bit of a jerk here, but why do we have funeral processions? I understand the need for a funeral and closure, but funeral processions since to be an antiquated tradition that really should be updated.

        I have been a part of them as a relative/friend of the deceased and as a bystander whose roadway has been cut off because of them. Why can’t people just drive normally to the cemetery and fondly remember the departed there? I don’t understand the tradition of tying up traffic on a major throughfare. Maybe I have a bad attitude living outside of Washington where politicians and heads of state die every day and we are forced to slow down to a crawl for someone that has done absolutely nothing for us, nor do we wish to remember.

        When my first grandpa died several years ago, we had a funeral procession. It felt period crawling at a snail’s pace of 35 MPH on a 60 MPH highway. I felt bad for the people around us who really just wanted to go from Point A to Point B. When my other grandpa passed there was no hearse and we just met at the cemetery (he was cremated and therefore easy to tote). Afterwards, we all met up for lunch and remembered him and looked at old pictures. Is one any better than the other?

        • My thoughts exactly, RG. Why can’t they just say “Alright, we’ll meet up at the cemetery, and get started as soon as everyone arrives”?

          A few years ago around here, someone was seriously injured or killed because of cars in a funeral procession running a red light when they weren’t close to the other cars, and thus no one had any idea there was a procession, and never saw ’em coming.

          Here in KY you’re required to pull over when a procession is going by on the road you’re on- utterly RIDICULOUS! Now with so many DRLs, how the hell are we supposed to even know?!

          Happened a few months ago to me- I turned onto a two lane highway, and there was some cars going the other way with their lights on- The hearse must’ve gone by before I turned onto the road, so I just saw some cars with their lights on…. If there had been a piggie, he probably would have nailed me.

        • My take is the funeral procession notifies other people about the passing of the deceased, with the hope (expectation?) that those witnessing this procession would then immediately stop whatever they were doing at the time of the procession passing by, and pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased.

          In Christian tradition, while the eternal punishment for sins can be forgiven by Jesus (the Redeemer), God’s justice will be exacted. Having to perform penance satisfies the justice required by God. Once someone has died, he can no longer receive graces resulting from his actions, that can work to satisfy God’s justice (i.e. the penitent’s debt). Therefore, the deceased need the living to pray for their intent. So if the funeral procession accomplishes this in the procession-viewers, then the deceased realizes some benefit. It is also a corporal work of mercy to pray for the dead. (& the living.) So there are lots of religious and Traditional support for a funeral procession.


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