Turning on lights at night is a no-brainer. We even signal to other drivers to do so, helping to keep the roadway safe. Yet there are also many additional daytime running light (DRL) benefits. Depending on where you’re driving, you may also be required to have your daytime running lights on while operating your vehicle. This blog discusses DRLs, the reasons to turn them on, and the rules about them in both the U.S. and Canada.

What are DRLs?

A DRL is a daytime running light. These come standard, along with the many other types of light on a roadworthy vehicle. But they serve a distinct purpose. 

DRLs are found primarily on the front of a vehicle, but can also be located on the back. They’re intended to make your vehicle more visible on the road, even in daytime conditions. They often turn on automatically, but you may have the option to turn them off.

All of the vehicle’s lights are intended to provide visibility and signal to other drivers. This helps prevent accidents by protecting drivers from putting themselves and others at risk. Still, there are more benefits associated with DRLs that we’ll cover in the next section.

Benefits of daytime running lights for fleets

Daytime running lights (DRLs) were first mandated in Scandinavian countries in the 1970s. Other northern countries, including Canada, later decided to require running lights during the daytime as well. After all, their drivers could be more likely to encounter snowy or dark conditions during daylight hours.

Yet, into the 1990s, they were not even allowed on the road in the United States. Today, though, most North American vehicles are now manufactured with DRLs. While the federal government doesn’t mandate them, DRLs are considered important for fleet vehicles throughout North America for several reasons. 

1. Visibility

DRLs increase vehicle visibility on the road during the day. This is especially necessary in daytime situations where there may be low light or poor weather conditions. 

Studies have shown daytime running lights also increase the distance at which other drivers on the road can see fleet vehicles. Having functional DRLs also encourages other drivers to conservatively estimate their distances and exhibit safer driving behaviors around vehicles made visible with their lights on.

2. Safety

Increasing visibility helps improve overall safety for your drivers and other road users: 

  • In one North American study of fleet vehicles, researchers found those with DRLs on during daytime hours had 7% fewer crashes. 
  • In another study, specific to Minnesota between 1995–2002, researchers found that the crash rate among 184,637 vehicles without standard DRLs was 1.73 times higher than for those with the lights.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also found DRLs reduced:
    • “Opposite direction daytime fatal crashes by 5 percent.” 
    • “Opposite direction/angle daytime non-fatal crashes by 5 percent.” 
    • “Non-motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, daytime fatalities in single-vehicle crashes by 12 percent.”
    • “Daytime opposite direction fatal crashes of a passenger vehicle with a motorcycle by 23 percent.”

Equipping your fleet vehicles with DRLs is an added precaution that proves particularly important for commercial trucks or other vehicles that may be larger or have more blind spots.

3. Compliance

DRLs are legally required in all new vehicles in many countries, including Canada. Since 1990, all new vehicles made or imported into Canada have needed daytime running lights. If your fleet vehicles are pre-1990 in Canada, you can (at least for now) get along without DRLs. 

In the United States, daytime running lights are not federally mandated. However, ultimately, even without a regulatory compliance and potential fine threat, the benefits of improved visibility and reduced accident risk remain.

Are daytime running lights required for fleet vehicles?

Short answer? It depends on where you’re driving. This section examines expectations in the United States and Canada.

DRL laws and regulations in the U.S.

In the United States, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not require commercial vehicles to use DRL. Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter V, Part 571, Subpart B, §571.108 defines daytime running lights as “steady burning lamps that are used to improve the conspicuity of a vehicle from the front and front sides when the regular headlamps are not required for driving.” Yet they are listed as “permitted but not required on passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles (MPV), trucks, and buses.”

States that required daytime running lights 

No states require daytime running lights. Still, there are some that have expectations for headlight use during the day:

  • Illinois, Maryland and Missouri require daytime headlights if wipers are in use. 
  • Georgia requires them when it is raining or there’s limited visibility. 
  • Arizona specifies headlights for “snow and ice.” 
  • South Dakota requires that you need to have headlights on “when you cannot see at least 200 feet ahead of you.”
  • Tennessee requires the use of headlights “when you cannot see at least 200 feet in front of you” and “when windshield wipers are in continual use.”
  • North Carolina requires headlights when you “cannot see more than 400 feet in front of you” and “whenever windshield wipers are in use.”
  • Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and New Mexico, Vermont require headlights “when you cannot see at least 500 feet in front of you.” 
  • Rhode Island and South Carolina require headlights “when you cannot see at least 500 feet in front of you” and “when windshield wipers are in continual use.”
  • Arkansas, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Virginia state that headlights must be on “during periods of fog, rain, snow, or sleet” and “when you cannot see at least 500 feet in front of you.” 
  • Massachusetts adds a requirement for headlights when you are driving in a tunnel.
  • Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Texas require headlights to be on “when you cannot see at least 1,000 feet ahead of you.” 
  • California’s driver’s handbook further recommends “using headlights on country roads or up in the mountains even on sunny days to make it easy for other drivers to see you.”
  • Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Ohio, and Pennsylvania require that “headlights must be turned on when you cannot see at least 1,000 feet ahead of you” and “when windshield wipers are in continuous or intermittent operation.”
  • New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah state that headlights “must be in use when you cannot see at least 1,000 feet ahead of you” and when the weather is foggy, snowy, sleeting, hailing, stormy, dusty or otherwise adverse. Though the exact adverse weather conditions defined vary.

DRL laws and regulations in Canada

Canadians are expected to have their daytime running lights on whenever their headlights are not on. If it’s not bright out (e.g., dawn, dusk, or you’re driving in a tunnel), drivers should use their headlights. Also, when it’s hard to see (e.g., raining).

Canada, in fact, added further light legislation to combat the problem of people driving with DRLs on and not switching to headlights at night. Starting September 2021, all new vehicles sold in Canada were required to have headlights, taillights, and side lights that automatically turn on in the dark. Further, vehicle dashboards are to be manufactured so they don’t light up until the headlights are turned on.

A safety and compliance solution for fleets

Vehicle lights are for seeing and being seen on the road. Yet they are not the only element you can address to improve driver and road safety. Motive’s comprehensive fleet management solution offers:

Manage your fleet safety as well as operations and compliance more effectively with Motive. Get a demo of our trusted fleet management technology today.