Enlightened Minister

In January this year the Minister of the Environment Alex Atwood replied to a question in the Northern Ireland Assembly from Mr Phil Flanagan Sinn Féin, whether his Department has considered requiring drivers to drive with dipped headlights on, at all times between October and March.

In his reply the Minister set out the requirements for drivers use of dipped headlights in addition to their use at night, “Drivers are required, under the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations (NI) 2000, to use dipped headlights (in addition to their use at night) during daytime when visibility is seriously reduced, for example in adverse weather conditions or in dull daytime weather.”

As motorcyclists reading this, you may begin to wonder where this is heading as motorcycles already come fitted from the major motorcycle manufacturers with headlights hard wired (AHO – Automatic Headlights On).

However as the title of this article suggests we appear to have an “enlightened” minister.

In his response Mr Attwood said “In addition, the cycle and motorcycle lobbies are likely be concerned at the relative lack of conspicuity that would be imposed on them were such a requirement to be imposed and the possible increase in accidents as a consequence. Pedal cycles do not have dipped headlights and motorcycles currently rely on being brighter than other vehicles to improve their conspicuity.”

We couldn’t have given a more appropriate answer if the minister had asked us himself!

Northern Ireland Motorcycle Fatality Report 2012

In the recently published, Northern Ireland Motorcycle Fatality Report 2012, 79.5% (n.31) of the collisions occurred during daylight hours.

Out of the 39 cases, there were seventeen (43.6%) in which another vehicle was considered the primary cause of the collision, in thirteen of these cases the motorcycles all had their lights on.

In nine cases the other vehicle driver pulled out in front of the motorcycles and in four cases, performed a U turn across the path of the motorcycle.

The evidence highlighted that the other vehicle driver was in a position to see them.

However, there appears to be a problem of looking but not seeing which may be due to the size of the motorcycle or simply because the car/van driver is expecting to see another car or van and has difficulty coping with the unexpected.

Further investigation into the perception of lights on motorcycles by OV (Other Vehicle) drivers would be warranted.

Bright Idea?

In February 2010 we replied to a consultation on Daytime Running Lights (DRL) from Ireland’s Road Safety Authority (RSA). Although the consultation was mainly about DRLs the consultation contained a position that, “The Bright Way To Save Lives” – “It’s not just at night that you need to turn on your lights” – “Dipped headlights are an effective way to reduce the number of collisions on our road”.

To add to Mr Attwood’s answer, we replied then that, “The concern is that when all vehicles have their dipped beam lights on, motorcycles will lose any advantage in terms of conspicuity that there may have been. As mentioned above in relation to glare and for example intersections, there is considerable documented evidence of the inability of car drivers to “see” approaching motorcycles – in spite of the fact that these motorcycles have dipped headlights on. On the subject of headlight use, some motorcyclists will ride with their main beam on. This seems to be indicative of the opinion that “bright is always right” for all conditions in the belief that having brighter lights on will identify motorcycles from the rest of the traffic.”

In the words of rider organisations such as the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG UK), riders would be, “Lost In A Sea Of Lights” and “Bright Isn’t Always Right” as regards to all vehicles running with dipped beam on during daylight hours.

Minister Alex Attwood Answer

The full text of the Ministers reply is:

“Under Directive 2008/89/EC all new types of passenger cars and small delivery vans must, from 7 February 2011, be equipped with Daytime Running Lights (DRL) (Right To Ride Comment: These are Dedicated Diode Running Lights). New types of trucks and buses will be required to do so from 7 August 2012. Such lights are expected to increase road safety as they raise the visibility of motor vehicles for other road users. They also have a low energy consumption rate compared with existing “dipped-beam” headlights.

I consider it appropriate to rely on the requirement for manufacturers to fit dedicated DRL lights rather than dictate that drivers should turn on their headlamps during the day. Headlamp bulbs have a limited life and using them during the day would increase the frequency of bulb failure. The European Commission has estimated that headlight bulbs used in such a way would need to be replaced twice as frequently. This could result in a rise in the number of vehicles driven at night with malfunctioning headlights.

In addition, headlamps generally consume more power than DRL so there would also be an increase in fuel consumption as well as CO2 emissions. I understand from research carried out by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) that dipped beam headlights consume approximately 160 watts of electrical power whereas DRL lights using filament lights consume 42 watts. It is therefore estimated that DRL lights consume 74% less power than dipped beams with the associated fuel consumption increase for DRL likely to be between 0.3% and 0.5%, and for daytime dipped beams between 1% and 1.8%.

I understand that the average driver uses around 1,275 litres of fuel each year, so even a 1% increase in fuel used could result in additional usage per driver of 12.75 litres per annum – at a price of over £1.40 per litre this could cost an NI motorist an extra £18 a year and NI motorists collectively in excess of £15 million per year. A requirement to use dipped headlights would effectively add a further 1.4p a litre to the NI fuel price. It could be argued that such an increase would inevitably be borne by the less well off, that is those who are more likely to have an older car.

I also consider that a requirement for drivers to switch on headlights during daytime hours could be time consuming and difficult for the police to enforce. In addition, the cycle and motorcycle lobbies are likely be concerned at the relative lack of conspicuity that would be imposed on them were such a requirement to be imposed and the possible increase in accidents as a consequence. Pedal cycles do not have dipped headlights and motorcycles currently rely on being brighter than other vehicles to improve their conspicuity.

There might be some safety benefits from such a requirement, though most likely not as many as in countries with northern climates and daylight patterns or with large forest areas where vehicles can “vanish” into the background. The main benefits would be the ability to see other vehicles better and to distinguish the moving vehicle from parked ones.

I have sought the advice of the PSNI and AA on this issue. Both organisations are cautious about the proposal. Consequently, I do not intend to take this issue forward.”

Links – Information

Northern Ireland Assembly – AIMS Portal – Click Here
Question & Answer – Click Here
“Northern Ireland Motorcycle Fatality Report 2012″ – pdf 1.1mb – Click Here
Response to Public Consultation Daytime Running Lights Road Safety Authority (RSA) Vehicle Standards – Right To Ride Ltd Northern Ireland – January 2010 – pdf 272kb – Click Here


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