That new SUV in front of you with their lights off at 11 pm? It's an increasingly common problem. One that could disappear under new Transport Canada regulations.
You may have noticed the rise of this in the last five years or so. Come up behind a newer car or truck on the highway at night and the back of the vehicle is dark. Pass them and the dash is lit up like the sun and there is just enough light coming from the headlights to look like they're on. But dash lights are often now separately controlled from the headlights to come on in the dark and the lights up front are just the daytime running lights. The driver has no idea that their headlights aren't on and that they have no light showing behind them. These "phantom vehicles" are dangerous. And they're a growing problem.
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According to a memo obtained by the CBC, Transport Canada is acting on the many complaints they've received about these vehicles. "The vehicle's illuminated dashboard can give the driver a false sense that their outside lights are activated, when they are not. The department has received a continuous high influx of letters from the driving public raising concerns about the increasing amount of phantom vehicles on the roads."
Early last year, Transport Canada issued proposed regulations that required manufacturers to make sure that the taillights would be on if the automatic dash lights were on or to have automatic head and taillights on all vehicles. Automakers were given 75 days to comment on those regulations, but they could not come to a consensus and the final regulations were delayed. The final rules should arrive this fall, with compliance due September 1, 2020.
Why the delay from automakers? According to the TC memo, automakers "have requested that Transport Canada include new alternative testing requirements for complex advanced lighting systems." Automakers want new rules for LED, HID, and even fibre optic or laser lighting systems, and are using this opportunity to get them.
That means that adding safer rear lights could lead to better headlights. In the meantime, if that little green headlight icon isn't on, make sure your lights, front and rear, are on when visibility is bad.