Daytime Running Lights: The Purpose, the Benefits, and the Risks

Wilbert Tan

They used to be exclusive to luxury cars and top-of-the-line variants. Now, it seems that every car that comes out has them. Daytime running lights (DRLs) are the subdued glowing lights you often see bordering around the headlights of today’s cars. However, they aren’t as bright as headlights, and on their own, they aren’t enough to illuminate the road ahead.


DRLs are more than just aesthetic accessories. They do serve a functional purpose, and that is to increase the visibility of your car and make it easier for other motorists to see you on the road. They are based on the idea that if headlights and taillights make it easy for other drivers to spot you at night, then DRLs can make you more visible during the day.


Subaru BRZ

Before discussing DRL’s utility (or lack thereof), first, some context: DRLs were initially introduced back in 1970s in parts of the world where days were often short and dim. Ever driven at twilight or during a heavy downpour where cars with their headlights off were hard to see? With DRLs, you’ll still be able to see these vehicles even when faced with low light or low visibility conditions. In countries where there is less light during the day, such as Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the practicality of DRLs is unquestionable. Multiple studies conducted in these countries have shown that the addition of DRLs does, in fact, reduce accidents.

Still, despite their obvious usefulness, the actual benefits that can be obtained from using them has been debated for decades. In many locations, DRLs have managed to enjoy a bad reputation. There are even organizations that formed for the sole purpose of eradicating them, saying that they are simply doing the same job as the sun and are completely unnecessary. Others argue that they are an utter eyesore and deserve to be bunched together with those annoying aftermarket flickering lights. Unfortunately for such lobbyists living in Europe and Canada, these areas have mandated DRLs  as necessary, and all new cars are required to have them.


The case against DRLs gain steam when their risks are considered, because although they are mainly there for safety reasons, they also manage to introduce some new safety concerns. For one, they can give a false sense of security, making drivers believe they no longer need to turn their headlights on. Drivers need to remain guarded against such assumptions and remember that DRLs are not bright enough for visibility, especially at night.

For another, there’s no arguing that some DRL designs simply fail in the aesthetics department, like this example.


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