Seasonal reminder: Turn on your car, turn on your lights

Have automatic daytime running headlights? Don’t neglect the taillights

I remember car-shopping some years back. The salesman was positively thrilled to tell me the vehicle had daytime running headlights, so I really needn’t bother reaching over and switching them on before going for the test drive.

Hand poised on the lever, I looked over at the guy.

“Does it have running taillights?” I asked.

Hm, well — no.

“Allrighty then.” And — switch — on they all went.

It’s a habit. Turn on the car, turn on the lights.

And it’s on my mind, because this is the time of year when many drivers seem to forget to turn on their headlights, much less their taillights — even on pea-soup foggy mornings. I’ve had a couple of close calls already. Several others have griped to me about the same problem.

Do local police do any kind of seasonal emphasis patrols for this?

Well, not really.

But they do keep a lookout.

RCW 46.37.020 requires that headlights be turned on from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise “and any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, persons and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of one thousand feet ahead.”

“Most vehicles have automatic settings that turn on headlights, but we occasionally run across vehicles without them during hours of darkness,” Everett police officer Aaron Snell said. “Officers will initiate a traffic stop on these vehicles, but we have not had any emphasis patrols.”

Under a separate state law, RCW 47.04.180, some roadways do have a 24-hour headlight policy, though it’s largely an educational effort.

Officers find it a good rule of thumb no matter where you drive, even if they can’t pull you over for not doing it.

“We believe headlights help vehicular safety 24 hours a day,” Snell said.

Washington State Patrol troopers also follow national safety standards and keep an eye out for a lack of headlights as a possible indicator of other problems.

“No headlights is one of the clues for us for a possible DUI,” trooper Heather Axtman said.

Axtman also mentioned my pet cause: illuminating your taillights.

“With those automatic lights, it’s not always automatic taillights. That’s another thing to pay attention to,” Axtman said. “They see that their dashboard is illuminated and that (the road) ahead of them is illuminated. But who thinks of the taillights?”

“A good rule of thumb I give people is that if you see the streetlights activated, then you need to have your headlights activated,” Axtman added.

Have a question? Send it to Please include your first and last name and city of residence. Look for updates on the Street Smarts blog.

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