Daytime running lights are a car feature which went from being a rarity to extremely common within the span of only a small number of years. But just what are daytime running lights anyway and why does pretty much every new car on sale have them nowadays?
Used on bicycles as well as cars, daytime running lights are low-wattage lights fitted exclusively to the front of a car and usually situated next to the main headlamps. They often consist of a row of small LED lights.
Their main purpose is to be used during the day to improve the visibility of a car to other drivers, as well as nearby cyclists and pedestrians. Daytime running lights are made so that they are bright enough to be seen during the day, but not so bright that they will dazzle other people.
While they won’t dazzle people during the day, daytime running lights are not suitable for night time driving because they are too bright and will dazzle oncoming drivers. They're not even designed to properly illuminate the road in the dark so using them as a substitute for regular headlights is a non-starter anyway.
Daytime running lights are not operated manually by the driver; they are activated automatically when the engine is started or even from the moment the driver unlocks the car. They automatically switch off when the driver switches on the main headlights or turns off the engine. Therefore, when a driver turns on the appropriate lights during night time driving (or if their car has automatic headlights), there shouldn’t be any concerns about the daytime running lights remaining on.
With certain cars, daytime running lights may stay on for a short period of time after the engine has been turned off and passengers have exited the vehicle and locked it.
Are daytime running lights mandatory?
European legislation has played a big part in the recent rise of daytime running lights. The first car sold in the UK to feature daytime running lights was the Volvo 240 back in the mid-1970s but it’s only in the last decade the feature has become commonplace.
European legislation adopted back in 2008 made it a requirement that daytime running lights be fitted to all new passenger cars and small delivery vans registered from February 2011 onwards. There’s no requirement for cars registered prior this date to be retro-fitted with daytime running lights.
Also, these mandatory daytime running lights do not have to consist of LEDs. Large sidelights, similar to those built into the front bumpers of the Nissan Juke, Fiat 500 or Suzuki Celerio, also qualify as daytime running lights under Europe’s legislation.