Choose Safety Over Savings And Turn On Your Headlights When Conditions Require

I want to talk about a driving habit that drives me nuts and becomes especially common from October through April when it’s nearly dark, raining, foggy, sleeting, or snowing, or sometimes a combination of all of these, to the point that you can barely see the road and the vehicles and pedestrians on or near it.  What drives me nuts are people who, in very poor visibility, intentionally drive without their headlights on, apparently in an effort to increase their gas mileage or the life of their headlights.   I especially love trying to see small, gray or white, unlit cars through the windshield wipers, road spray, and mist.  Such situations are a recipe for disaster and car accidents causing personal injuries or wrongful death.

Let’s review Iowa’s law regarding headlight usage.  Iowa Code 321.384(1) is mandatory, not optional:  “Every motor vehicle upon a highway within the state, at any time from sunset to sunrise, and at such other times when conditions such as fog, snow, sleet, or rain provide insufficient lighting to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of five hundred feet ahead, shall display lighted headlamps. . . .”  (emphasis added).  There’s no exception for money or energy saving measures that allows a driver to opt-out of the headlight requirement and endanger everyone else on the road.

500 feet is approximately a tenth of a mile.  It’s the length of nearly two football fields.  In other words, it’s a long distance, and there’s no way that in bad weather, particularly during morning and evening rush hour (when the sun’s just below or barely above the horizon and not doing much good, especially behind a cloud cover) anyone can clearly see 500 feet in front of them.  So virtually every time someone’s intentionally driving headlight-less in bad weather to save a nickel or two, that driver’s also violating the law.

Besides the fact that this is a crime, it’s also extremely dangerous (which is probably why it’s a crime).  Imagine the horrific collision that will occur if someone pulls out or turns left in front of you because, with the bad weather swirling all around and messing up visibility, that driver didn’t see your unlit vehicle that’s only visible if you concentrate real hard and squint for at least five seconds.  Worse, imagine killing a pedestrian who thought that traffic had cleared and started to cross, not realizing that there was a virtually invisible car bearing down on them until it was too late.

On balance, the small amount of money that could be saved by breaking the law and keeping your headlights off in bad weather is vastly outweighed by the danger you’re causing to yourself, your passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians.   So, if you find yourself in bad weather surrounded by a sea of headlights, take that as a hint and join the crowd by flipping that headlight switch to the on position.  It’s the law, and no one is entitled to break it, especially not to just save a little money.


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