Sunday, November 1, 2015

Dear Road users.... Winter visibility.

This was originally going to be a very long winded and angry rant, but I had a change of heart, and thought I would go easy on some people out there.

Winter is upon us, the clocks have gone back, darker evening commutes home are here, and a lot of people, with the temperature dropping, and public transport getting busier, are turning to their cars once more.

I have a request of ALL of you using the roads in this season, and it's a profound one. Please read on and check yourself off against the following.

Let's start with windows shall we. Pretty important part of visibility really, and need attention in a number of ways. Firstly, in the mornings, when there is water settled on the windows, give them a quick wipe over. When you get in the car, you use the wipers quickly anyway. Think about it, you are using them so you can see out... So make sure you can see out of the rest of them too. They are there for a purpose.
As it gets colder still, frost and ice will form on the windows. Same again, it only take a minute, literally a minute to walk around with a scraper (99p from the errm, 99p Store, or should I say a quid at Poundland) Anyway, the better the quality, the quicker the job, so get one and put it in the door pocket or boot. Dew, ice, and even snow, it will get the windows clear in a jiffy.
Driving with obscured windows is not only an offence, but also plain bloody stupid and ignorant. I have no time for people who can't spare a minute of their time to make sure they can see out, both for their safety, and the safety of others. Junction are impossible with obscured windows, so do the right thing, and BEFORE you move off!

Lights. There are a fair few on a car, and each has a purpose, so I will quickly run through them.
First up, side lights. Underrated these days, with so many newer cars having DRL or Daytime Running Lights. Most people are aware the front of their car is brightly illuminated with LED's, myself included. So nowadays many go straight from having nothing switched on, to dipped beam.
The problem with this is the rear of the car has no lighting with DRL's, so where you would usually think, hmm visibility is dropping, lets whack the sidelights on, you now don't bother. But hey, genuinely not a huge deal.

Next up there are dash lights. Now I mention these, because a growing number of car manufacturers in their infinite wisdom (SEAT were one of the first) have decided that the dash lights should be on at all times, regardless of if you have turned any vehicle lighting on whatsoever. The problem here is, driving on urban streets, which are mainly well lit, a lot of drivers don't get that automatic, "hang on I can't see my speedo" trigger to light up. And with DRL's also putting light out in front of the car, people are forgetting to turn their lights on. As the days get shorter, and the roads get busier, especially as it becomes dark for the school run in the coming months, this becomes a serious issue.

One way around this is to get properly acquainted with your dashboard, and the lights and symbols on it. I have attached an image at the bottom of this entry with a very detailed explanation of all dash lights, but for now I just want to concentrate on a few.

Dipped beam, also known as the main headlight, but not on full beam.

The symbol you should see on your dash when driving at night. Confirmation you have rear lights, numberplate lights, and of course the dipped beam on at the front of the vehicle. If its not on, either something is broken, or you have forgotten to do something. You should also be using them in the daytime when visibility drops below 100 metres, due to smoke, fog, or rain / spray.

Main beam, also know as high beam.

If this one is on, your headlights are now as bright as they get. If you are following another road user, or having oncoming traffic in your sight, turn them OFF! You are blinding people, distracting them from the road, and could cause an accident.
The only time these should be being used is on dark, unlit roads where there are no other vehicles you could be affecting by having them on. In short, if you are on an unlit road and extra light would help, so long as you won't blind or dazzle anyone else, use them. But be ready to dip them (turn them back to normal) should circumstances change.

They are NOT an alternative to normal dipped beam, or to be used as a replacement or back-up if one of your dipped beams fail.

Fog lights, front.

For some reason this symbol can illuminate either orange or green, depending on the vehicle manufacturer. Slightly confusing to some, but the symbol remains the same. Left facing, light beam pointing down, with a squiggly line through the beam to suggest fog. For years used also as driving lights, looking cool lights, and also as an alternative to headlights once again, for those too lazy to replace blown bulbs. In reality, they are there to aid forward vision for the driver as the kerbs and edges of the roads get harder to pick out. Facing down more (pointing closer to the car) and kerbwards, they can be helpful, but are not a required piece of equipment.
Just to confuse matters more, manufacturers had a great idea to use these greatly underused lights as "adaptive lighting", so as a car starts to turn now, you may see one of its front foglights come on for a moment until the wheels straighten. This will NOT illuminate the dash light however.

And finally, the rear foglight, possibly the biggest bone of contention on the roads today.

Learn the symbol, and what colour it should be on your car.
The LAST light you will find yourself turning on, when road conditions have reached their worst. For some manufacturers its also the hardest to turn on, with the lighting switch having to be turned all the way, and then an extra click. Some are a press button, and will automatically turn back off again when the car and headlights are turned off, needing to be turned back on separately each time you light up.
Either way, they are the last lights for a reason. They are stupidly bright, blind drivers behind you, and so frequently left on after conditions improve. The only reason these should ever need to be turned on, is if the visibility is SEVERELY reduced. If you are following the car in front of you at a sensible following distance, and care barely make out its lights, switch them on. In an urban environment, maybe add a safety buffer, and make that the second or third car ahead.
On the motorway, use common sense, the car in front should be clearly visible. If not, check your distance, and assess if they are needed.
One common sense rule is this. If the car in front has theirs on, and you are wincing.... Make sure yours are not on.
The reason they are such a big issue is because when following a car with lights on, your eyes become fatigued and desensitised very quickly, a red light, is a red light. People struggle to see the brightness of a tail light changing to a brake light in good conditions. In poor conditions, with fog lights on, seeing a brake light coming on is even harder, as they are the same sort of brightness as the fog lights. That said, in the right conditions, when it's really foggy, you can actually differentiate a lot easier, and of course see the 3rd brake light appear if the car has one.

So now we know what lights are for what, let me briefly rant.
People who drive with a headlight out, and then just use fog lights or high beams as a substitute. You may be able to see where you are going a little better, but you are blinding or confusing other road users. A 6ft wide car with one head light becomes a 2ft wide motorcycle. Allowances for parked cars and smaller gaps for passing in go out the window.  Please, check your lights regularly, and make a habit of checking them on the back of other vehicles when following or in traffic. If one is out, fix it ASAP. And that does NOT mean next pay day.

Speaking of using the back of other vehicles to check your lights. When following another car, if you can see your headlights lighting up the inside of their car, or see it high on the back of a bus, or buildings even, your headlight alignment is out. You are again blinding other motorists, or at very least annoying the heck out of them. The bulb is most likely just not in properly. Or you may have had a minor bump and thought nothing of it, but now realise it's not right. Again fix it ASAP, please!! You also will fail the MOT for this, so worth sorting out.

In short, it's not a lot to ask. Clear your windows,  check your lights regularly, and maintain them if so required. Such a simple thing, but it makes such a difference on the roads for so many reasons.

If for any reason, you are one of those people who thinks lights and visibility are over rated, well I sincerely hope you are stopped, and fined by the Police or VOSA very soon. Maybe even have a defect notice issued, just to really drive it home to you.

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