Are daytime running lights mandatory on all vehicles?

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Yes, they are. Canada’s Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) and its Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSRs) require that all new vehicles sold in (or imported into) Canada and built after December 1, 1989, be fitted with daytime running lights (DRLs) that go on when you start the vehicle.

Vehicles built after December 1, 1989, that operate without DRLs are either:

  • United States licensed whose drivers are visiting Canada
  • Have a broken or disconnected DRL function; or
  • were imported when they were more than 15 years old, (the federal government does not have jurisdiction over these)

Provincial/territorial governments have complete authority over the road system and its use, including the licensing, operation and maintenance of vehicles.

Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 requires DRLs on all new vehicles made or imported after January 1, 1990. Canada’s proposed DRL regulation was essentially similar to regulations in place in Scandinavia, with an axial luminous intensity limit of 1,500 candela, but automakers claimed it was too expensive to add a new front lighting device, and would increase warranty costs (by dint of increased bulb replacements) to run the low beams. After a pitched regulatory battle, the standard was rewritten to permit the use of reduced-voltage high beam headlamps producing up to 7,000 axial candela, as well as permitting any light color from white to amber or selective yellow. These changes to the regulation permitted automakers to implement a less costly DRL, such as by connecting the high beam filaments in series to supply each filament with half its rated voltage, or by burning the front turn signals full time except when they are actually flashing as turn indicators.

Daytime Running Lamps

A daytime running lamp (DRL, also daylight running lamp or daytime running light) is an automotive lighting device on the front of a road going motor vehicle, installed in pairs, automatically switched on when the vehicle is moving forward, emitting white, yellow, or amber light to increase the conspicuity of the vehicle during daylight conditions.

Depending on prevailing regulations and vehicle equipment, the daytime running light function may be implemented by functionally specific lamps, by operating the low-beam headlamps or fog lamps at full or reduced intensity, by operating the high-beam headlamps at reduced intensity, or by steady-burning operation of the front turn signals. Compared to any mode of headlamp operation to create the daytime running light, functionally dedicated DRLs maximize the potential benefits in safety performance and minimize fuel consumption, glare, motorcycle masking, and other potential drawbacks.

Effect of ambient light

The daytime running light was first mandated, and safety benefits first perceived, in Scandinavian countries where it is frequently and persistently dark during daytime hours in winter time. As ambient light levels increase, the potential safety benefit decreases while the DRL intensity required for a safety improvement increases. The safety benefit produced by DRLs in relatively dark Nordic countries is roughly triple the benefit observed in relatively bright Israel and America.

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