When Should I Use My Sidelights?

When Should I Use My Sidelights

Discussing the weather is practically a national pastime in the UK. However, when the skies turn grey and visibility drops, it’s more than just a topic of conversation—it’s a matter of safety, especially while driving.

The ability to see and be seen is paramount, and this is where the proper use of car lights, particularly sidelights, becomes essential.

Sidelights, often overlooked in favour of the more prominent headlights, play a vital role in enhancing visibility during certain driving conditions. While you may be familiar with the effectiveness of headlights in piercing through the darkness or fog, sidelights have their unique purpose.

Primarily, sidelights are used during twilight hours or when daylight is fading, but it’s not dark enough to warrant the use of full headlights. They are also crucial in poor weather conditions such as heavy rain or mist, where visibility is reduced but not to the extent that requires full headlights.

Understanding when and how to use your sidelights is not just a matter of practical driving knowledge; it’s also a legal requirement. Improper use of car lights can lead to dangerous situations and even legal penalties.

For those preparing for a theory test, this knowledge is vital. But it’s equally important for seasoned drivers to refresh their understanding of these rules.

An often-asked question about sidelights is whether to keep them on when the car is parked. The answer is yes, in certain situations. For instance, if you’re parked on a road or in an area with poor lighting, leaving your sidelights on can make your car more visible to other road users, thereby preventing accidents.

Sidelights: What Are They and How Are They Different From Headlights?

Understanding Sidelights

Sidelights, often referred to as parking lights, are an integral part of your car’s lighting system, positioned strategically at the vehicle’s corners. They serve a different purpose compared to headlights and are designed for specific situations.

In the front of your car, sidelights are typically housed within the same unit as your regular headlights. When activated, they emit a soft white light that is noticeably less intense than your main headlights. At the back, turning on the sidelights illuminates red tail lights on both sides of the car, along with the back number plate.

The key difference between sidelights and other lights on your car is the intensity of the light they produce. Sidelights are not intended to brighten the road ahead like dipped headlights or full beams.

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Their primary role is to enhance your vehicle’s visibility to other road users, especially in low light conditions or when the car is parked.

Power Consumption and Usage

Another notable feature of sidelights is their lower power consumption compared to headlights. This makes them ideal for situations where extended use of lights is required without draining the battery, like when parked on a poorly lit street.

Sidelight Dashboard Symbol

When you activate your sidelights, typically by twisting one of the indicator stalks or turning a separate dial, a specific symbol illuminates on your dashboard.

Sidelight dashboard symbol

This symbol is usually represented by two semi-circular shapes, each emitting light beams, designed in a mirror image formation. Recognising this symbol is crucial for ensuring that you’ve activated the correct lights, especially in situations where visibility is critical.

When Should I Use My Sidelights?

Enhancing Visibility for Safety

Sidelights, though not particularly helpful for improving your view of the road ahead, play a crucial role in ensuring your vehicle’s visibility to others. These lights are especially beneficial in conditions that are neither fully dark nor completely bright. They help other road users estimate your distance, speed, and the type of vehicle you’re driving.

The presence of sidelights at each corner of your vehicle also aids in conveying its width, distinguishing it from smaller vehicles like motorbikes. This is particularly important for oncoming vehicles, which need to gauge the necessary space for safe passing, and for vehicles behind you, determining the safety of overtaking.

In the often dull and cloudy UK weather, sidelights prove to be invaluable for maintaining visibility.

As Parking Lights

While it’s advisable to turn off headlights when parked to prevent dazzling other drivers, sidelights serve a different purpose. Often referred to as parking lights in some countries, they are crucial when parking in dark conditions.

The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations of 1989 specify situations where leaving sidelights on while parked is not just recommended but may be legally required. These situations include:

  • Parking between sunset and sunrise.
  • Parking on a road or lay-by with a speed limit over 30 mph.
  • When not parked in a designated parking space.

For instance, if you’re parked on a rural road under the national speed limit of 60 mph, it’s essential to keep your vehicle illuminated to avoid accidents. Failing to do so can result in penalties.

As a Backup

In the unfortunate event of a headlight failure, while driving, sidelights can serve as a temporary solution. Driving with a single working headlight can mislead other drivers into thinking your vehicle is a motorbike, which can be dangerous. In such a scenario, sidelights can help indicate the true width of your vehicle.

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While they won’t provide substantial visibility like headlights, they can offer enough illumination to get you safely to a place where you can replace the faulty headlight. They’re not the ideal solution, but they’re certainly better than having no lights at all.

In summary, sidelights play a vital role in ensuring your vehicle’s visibility, both while in motion and when parked.

They’re an essential component of your vehicle’s lighting system, especially in situations where full headlights are not necessary or when headlights fail. Understanding and using sidelights correctly can significantly enhance road safety.

Frequently asked questions

The concern about a flat battery from leaving sidelights on overnight is common, but fortunately, these lights are designed with energy efficiency in mind. Sidelights have a very low wattage, which means they consume minimal power.

This design allows you to leave them on for several hours, including overnight, without the worry of draining your car’s battery.

To further reduce the risk of a flat battery, it’s a good practice to turn off your sidelights in the morning. Once you start your car, the engine will begin recharging the battery, replenishing any power that was used by the sidelights.

As a general rule, as long as you’re not leaving your sidelights on repeatedly over multiple nights without driving your car in the meantime, the likelihood of experiencing a flat battery is quite low. So, you can use your sidelights as needed for visibility during the night with peace of mind.

Driving with only your sidelights on at night is indeed legal, but there are specific conditions where this is permissible. You can use sidelights when driving on well-lit roads where the maximum speed limit is 30 mph or less.

That said, even in these situations, it’s generally advisable to use your headlights instead. Headlights provide better illumination and visibility, which is always beneficial for safe driving.

Additionally, constantly switching between sidelights and headlights can be unnecessary and cumbersome. So, while it’s legal to drive with just your sidelights in certain conditions, for ease and added safety, sticking to your headlights is the recommended approach.

In modern vehicles, particularly those manufactured since 2011, Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) are a common feature. These lights automatically switch on when the engine is running and are designed to increase your vehicle’s visibility during the day.

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DRLs are indeed brighter than sidelights and are specifically made to be low-wattage to conserve energy. Additionally, they usually dim or switch off when you turn on your headlights to avoid dazzling other drivers.

However, despite the presence of DRLs, it’s still important to use your sidelights in certain situations, particularly in dull or poor weather conditions. One key reason for this is that sidelights, unlike DRLs, also illuminate your vehicle’s tail lights.

This is crucial for ensuring that your car is visible from both the front and the back, helping other road users to see you more clearly.

So, even if your car is equipped with DRLs, remember to switch on your sidelights when necessary to enhance your vehicle’s visibility all around, especially in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

For your vehicle to successfully pass its MOT test, it is essential that your sidelights are in proper working order. This means they must be completely unobscured and functioning correctly. During the MOT, it will be checked that all four sidelights illuminate promptly and can be operated from an easily accessible switch.

To ensure that your car’s lights, including the sidelights, remain effective, it’s important to clean them regularly. This is especially crucial during the winter months when roads are often muddy and wet, leading to grime and dirt accumulating on your vehicle, which can obscure the lights.

Before your MOT, it’s a good practice to check your sidelights yourself. You can do this by turning them on and then walking around the car to ensure that each light is fully illuminated. This simple check can help you identify and rectify any issues with the sidelights before your MOT test.