Daytime running lights have been mandatory safety equipment for decades in certain parts of the world, but not in the United States. In Canada and the European Union, DRLs were required long before LEDs became popular, and ushered in the era of DRL designs that automakers use to give their cars a visual identity. Many modern cars, such as the 2023 Toyota Corolla, now come with DRLs down to the lowest trim, but not all cars do. And far from just looking cool, daytime running lights also reduce the risk of car crashes by nearly nine percent, according to a recent study in the Journal of Safety Research.
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There have been other studies on the subject of DRL safety, but this one from the peer-reviewed journal is only the latest. It was conducted by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, but the findings are no less applicable to other countries, some of which are already privy to the benefits of DRLs.
Specifically, DRLs “can reduce the overall risk of being involved in a non-nighttime multi-vehicle crash where vehicle visibility may be a factor in crash causation by a statistically significant 8.8 [percent],” per the average results of the study. Visibility is the key word here, since we could argue modern cars are safer than older models, overall.
Also, despite its recent publication, the study looked at crash data from 2010-2017, meaning the newest cars in the study are still about five years old. These cars were significantly more likely to be seen by fellow motorists, decreasing the odds of daytime collisions, when you would guess that cars are easier to see whether any of their lights are on or off. But it turns out that, even in Australia, which has been called “the sunniest continent on Earth,” daytime running lights make other cars stand out.
When ambient light conditions are lower, say, during dawn or dusk, DRLs reduce crash risk by 20.3 percent, which is a huge jump from the average reduction of 8.8 percent. Of course, that’s because DRLs come on automatically, radiating in place of the car’s headlights, which drivers may be less likely to remember to turn on when there’s some light out, but not enough to guarantee visibility.
Finally, speed is also a factor, as Car Expert notes: in speed zones that are above 75 kilometers per hour (about 47 miles per hour), DRLs reduce the risk of crashes by 13.8 percent. In speed zones under 75 km/h, the number goes down to 7.7 percent, but that’s still a good reduction in the odds of a crash.
The study concludes that government agencies “should consider a DRL mandate on all new vehicle models.” Presumably, the study is calling for DRLs to be standard equipment on all versions of any given car — from a barebones base model to the top trim. Base models have long been at the bottom of the hierarchy, and DRLs tend to be one way carmakers differentiate the same cars, giving pricier models sleek looks with all manner and shape of LED DRLs.
Driver and passenger safety shouldn’t be locked behind a price premium, or be seen as an optional luxury feature. It has been, and still is, much of the time but studies like these add evidence that irrefutably shows automatic DRLs reduce visibility-related car crashes. If government agencies around the world are serious about reducing car crashes, then mandatory DRLs on all vehicles — regardless of trim or model — is a good start.