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Preventing nighttime accidents is easy, fun

I have a new hobby I’d like to tell you about.

It’s a hobby I’ve come to enjoy several times per week, typically on my drive home from town. Said drive requires a few minutes on a dark stretch of highway that’s interrupted by several traffic lights.

Let me set the stage.

When heading back home after dark (often from my evening car-guy coffee social hour or workout), I look for drivers who don’t have their headlights on.

Even though you can’t really see them, they’re never hard to find. In recent years, this has become somewhat epidemic in my locale, and I’m sure, in yours too.

There’s a circle of thought that this is, of course, the automaker’s fault for not installing auto-on headlamps, or for allowing instrument clusters to light up independently of the headlights.

I’m of a different opinion, however: if you drive a vehicle, it’s your responsibility to know how it works, how it doesn’t, and to understand when your headlights are on, and when they’re not, and how to use them consistently.

Further infuriation at this trend arises from two more observations.

First, the guys and gals with their lights off at 10:30 p.m. are universally squinting out their windshield trying to see.

“Why can’t I see?” they wonder, as the peanut-bulbs that comprise their daytime running lights cast illumination, scarcely brighter than a candle-covered birthday cake, about six feet ahead of the car.

“My eyes must be getting old. Or maybe the headlights on this car really suck,” they say.

Second (and worse)?

In the majority of my encounters, the offending vehicle has automatic headlights (I’m keenly aware of this because of a my career of test-driving cars).

Literally, this means the driver is operating a vehicle with a feature — which they paid money for — that’s designed to keep them from driving with their lights off, with their lights off.

So, my hobby: I pull up to the offending vehicle when one of the four traffic lights on route home turns red. I honk politely, roll down the window, and ask the other driver what time it is.

“Um ... it’s 10:56,” they say.

“Oh, well, you might want to turn your lights on, since it’s dark and I can’t see you,” I reply.

Usually, there’s a polite “Thank-you,” though one fella flipped me off and another lady called me something I can’t write here. Then, it’s a little chuckle, and the driver drives off, lights on, enjoying the benefits of now being able to see where they’re going.

It’s always good for a laugh.

Now, for the serious bit.

The other day, one of my loved ones told me she didn’t want to drive at night any more. I asked her why. She told me that she was having trouble seeing, and that this was leading to trouble staying in her lane after dark.

“Are your lights on?” I asked.

There was a pause.

“I think so?” she said.

Next, I asked her to NOT touch her headlight switch until I visited the following day. When I did, I poked my head into the car, and noticed they were switched off.

One of my very own family was, in fact, driving around after dark with her lights turned off.

Some of you will now wish to send me angry emails because I’m using “her” as a reference here. Please don’t. This is one example. Men can (and do) make the same mistake, and I’ve been one of them on multiple occasions. We’re all human, after all.

Something had to be done and I came up with a solution.

The car in this example does not have automatic headlights, but it does have automatic headlight shut-off. I tested this by starting the engine, turning the headlights to “on,” stopping the engine, locking the doors, and confirming that after about 30 seconds, the headlights turn off by themselves.

Then, I went to Home Hardware and bought a roll of Gorilla Tape, which is thick and durable and very very sticky.

After returning to the car, I turned the headlight switch to on and taped the end of the stalk to kingdom come. The switch was now adhered to the on position and could not accidentally be switched off.

Had the vehicle been equipped with automatic headlights (which self-activate when it gets dark), I’d have taped the stalk into the auto position instead.

In both cases, headlight activation is guaranteed at all times when you’d want your headlights to be on.

My method won’t work with fully-manual headlights, but I’m working on a solution for these as well. I’ll report back if I find one.

Why not do this for any and all friends or family members you care about? It will, after all, prevent driving after dark with dangerously insufficient lighting, and could prevent a fatal accident, especially in summer because of moose and bears and all the rest. Seeing isn’t optional when driving, after all.

A roll of Gorilla Tape is enough to treat dozens of cars and might be the best $7 dollars you’ve ever spent on your loved one’s safety.

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