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Ask a Trooper: Headlights important for driving safety

Question: Often I have noticed cars that can't be seen because they do not have lights turned on making them invisible. It is my understanding that when over 40 years ago Sweden made it illegal to have a car's motor running without the lights on,...

Question: Often I have noticed cars that can't be seen because they do not have lights turned on making them invisible. It is my understanding that when over 40 years ago Sweden made it illegal to have a car's motor running without the lights on, car accidents dropped by 30 percent. If something as simple and inexpensive as this saves lives, why doesn't the USA have such a law? One would think that the insurance companies would demand it.

Answer: I have no current data on the history and statistics from Sweden. I agree with you that being seen while driving can help reduce your chances of being involved in a crash. Law enforcement enforces the current laws and driving rules that are in place. I have seen many of the newer model vehicles that have daytime running lights that are on when the vehicle is in motion, and I believe this does help reduce the chances of being involved in a crash.

Basic automatic headlights work through sensors which detect how much light is outside. These sensors are located on the dash of the vehicle. The headlights turn on when the sensors detect a certain level of darkness or the level of ambient light. Most vehicles retained the conventional headlight switches, which allow drivers to turn lights on or off and bypass the sensors.

There are limitations to automatic headlights. Sometimes they do not turn on during heavy rain or fog, as the light sensor still detects some light.

Many drivers fail to physically turn on their headlights, which will also activate the rear taillights and marker lights. Drivers might assume the sensors will activate all of the vehicle's lights in reduced visibilities, but that is not always the case.

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Minnesota law basically says that every vehicle on a roadway shall display lighted headlamps, lighted tail lamps, and illuminating devices from sunset to sunrise and at any time when it is raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing or at any other time when visibility is impaired by weather or insufficient light, at a distance of 500 feet ahead.

A good rule to follow is if your wipers need to be on, then your headlights, taillights and marker lights should be on, too. You are right that it is very important that you can be seen and not just what you can see. When lights are required, manually turn on your headlights and you will know for sure that all your lights will be on when needed. Also, make it a habit to check your lights often to make sure all of them are working properly.

A portion of state statutes were used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Sgt. Neil Dickenson, Minnesota State Patrol, 1131 Mesaba Ave., Duluth, MN, 55811; on Twitter @MSPPIO_NE; or by email at neil.dickenson@state.mn.us .

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