Friday, February 28, 2020
Feb. 28, 2020

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In Our View: Drivers need to see the light about driving in rain

The Columbian
Published:

The recent long period of very gray, rainy weather offers a pointed reminder of how important it is to be a safe, sensible driver. We’re reminded of this because we see so many motorists failing to incorporate simple steps that greatly enhance not only their safety, but the safety of other drivers. Case in point: the number of drivers who do not turn on their headlights when their windshield wipers are in use.

That might sound like a petty complaint, but we maintain that when drivers don’t use their headlights, it’s extremely difficult to see them when it’s pouring and spray is being kicked up on wet roads.

Sadly, Washington is one of many states that doesn’t specifically require headlights to be on when windshield wipers are in use; in fact, according to AAA, just 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate the practice. While we’re not at this time advocating the Legislature tackle this issue during its short session, we do think that the current law — requiring headlights to be on a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise, and when visibility is less than 1,000 feet — is inadequate. We don’t know about you, but we can’t judge if we are able to see 1,000 feet or 100 feet ahead while traveling at 60 mph.

Failure to use headlights when wipers are in use flies in the face of widespread safety guidance, including that provided to beginning drivers. Driving-tests.org, for example, advises new drivers that when it’s raining, they should, among other steps, slow down, turn on their headlights and maintain a safe distance between cars. Insurance companies second that. On its website, State Farm also says when it’s raining, drivers should “think,” “turn on those headlights,” and “slow down.”

We won’t speculate why so many drivers, regardless of the conditions, operate their vehicles as if it’s dry, sunny and they are cruising from Washtucna to Pullman. But add disregard to weather conditions to other safety issues with too many drivers, such as impairment and distraction, and you will see why we think this is an important topic.

According to driver safety website Approved Course, “The daytime use of headlights can reduce the likelihood of a head-on collision by making it easier to spot approaching vehicles at a greater distance. Published studies confirm that daytime use of headlights was responsible for a 5 percent to 15 percent reduction in multivehicle collisions.”

Years ago there was a national ad campaign urging drivers to “Watch out for the other guy.” While defensive driving isn’t emphasized like it used to be, we think that the safety of everyone using our roadways would be improved if all drivers watched out for the other guy. But to do that, you have to be able to see the other guy, especially during dark, dreary days. And there is no simpler way to accomplish that than to turn on your headlights. The life you save might be your own.

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