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Cars with faulty lights as the clocks go back

Drivers in the dark over defective light danger

Single headlight can make judging gaps and overtaking a real hazard

26 October 2018

Thousands of cars with defective lights will present a greater hazard on the roads when the dark evening commute returns from Monday (29 October), according to the AA.

Last year, faulty lights and failure to fix them contributed to 153 injury accidents* in Great Britain – the highest in three years. A quarter of these accidents led to death or serious injury.

AA patrols have highlighted that, in this early stage of winter, the plague of vehicles with a defective front or rear light becomes more apparent than ever. The motoring organisation is encouraging drivers to check their car for any blown bulbs, to help them ‘see and be seen’ and stay within the law.

Motorway at night

A faulty headlight can make a car look like a motorbike

George Flinton, AA Patrol of the Year, says: “In the dark, a faulty headlight can make a car look like a motorbike from a distance. This makes judging gaps and overtaking a hazard, as well as increasing the risk of the vehicle being hit in a breakdown. Broken brake lights give drivers behind less time to react when the traffic slows.

In the dark, a faulty headlight can make a car look like a motorbike from a distance. This makes judging gaps and overtaking a hazard, as well as increasing the risk of the vehicle being hit in a breakdown
George Flinton, AA Patrol of the Year

“During the lighter summer months a lot of people ignore or simply don’t notice problems with their car’s lights. When the clocks go back in Autumn, more accidents happen as cars with a blown bulb suddenly stand out in the darker evenings. It’s much more difficult for other road users to gauge how wide these cars are and they can easily be mistaken for a motorbike.”

Don't like driving in darker evenings

Previous AA-Populus research** shows that a third (32%) of motorists say driving in the darker evenings is the thing they dislike most about Autumn driving.

As well as an MOT failure, driving with a faulty or damaged light could lead to a ‘defect rectification notice’. Failure to accept the notice or fix the fault could mean a fixed penalty notice, or three points on the driving licence plus a bigger fine if it goes to court. Drivers who cause a fatal or serious accident due to faulty lights could face harsher penalties, including a possible prison sentence.

George adds: “The fault often occurs because of a blown bulb, or because corrosion has built up on the terminals. However, it could also mean an electrical problem, so if in doubt, it’s best to get it checked at a garage. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to combine it with a pre-winter service to help prevent other problems from arising.

Wear Hi-viz if you've got it

“In the event of breaking down in the dark, drivers should try to stop in a safe, well-lit place, put on their hazard lights to warn other road users and then wait away from the vehicle for help to arrive. If you have any reflective clothing, it’s always advisable to wear this at the roadside.”

In the event of breaking down in the dark, drivers should try to stop in a safe, well-lit place, put on their hazard lights to warn other road users and then wait away from the vehicle
George Flinton, AA Patrol of the Year
AA tips for checking your lights

George Flinton, AA Patrol of the Year, says: “It’s important to make sure your car’s lights are working when they need to – even in the daytime. 

“Don’t rely on automatic lights all the time. Heavy rain or fog in daytime can reduce your vision and vehicle visibility to dangerous levels, but it might still be bright enough to prevent automated lights from coming on.

Daytime running lights are only fitted to the front so you won’t want to rely on them in the daytime when visibility is seriously reduced, or as night falls, as you could be virtually invisible from behind.”

Anyone attempting to change a bulb in their car should always read the car manufacturer’s handbook and any guidelines supplied with the replacement bulb before proceeding. If in any doubt, the driver should take their car to a garage.

  • Check all lights at least once every fortnight – ideally as part of a regular routine including tyres, oil and coolant – not forgetting headlights at full-beam, indicators and fog lights too
  • Keep lights clean – a build-up of dirt can severely limit performance
  • Brake lights can be checked by reversing up close to a wall or asking someone to help
  • Some bulbs can be relatively easily replaced but drivers of some cars, especially those with restricted access to the light units, will need specialist help
  • Darker evenings also make it more important to keep the inside and outside of your car’s windows clean to improve all-round visibility
  • Windscreen wash should be kept topped up and wiper blades checked periodically for damage and wear

* Source: Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2017, Department for Transport
** AA-Populus online survey of 27,662  AA members  between 13 and 20 October 2015

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