Forward lighting is extremely important to enable drivers to guide the vehicle safely at night along varying road geometries and to identify obstacles and pedestrians. Vehicle signal lighting enhances conspicuity enabling drivers and other road users to be able to see each other and understand their respective intentions and directions of travel, indicating, braking etc.

Brake lights and dipped beam headlamps for cars have been available since the 1910s but the technology did not develop significantly until the 1960s. In the last 20 years, lighting technology has advanced rapidly with the transition from halogen bulbs to high intensity gas discharge, to LEDs, and to laser technology. Alongside the advances in light source technology, there have been interesting developments for avoiding glare, illuminating the forward road scene even around corners, utilising infrared or ultraviolet light to pick out obstacles and providing signal lighting that adapts to varying ambient conditions or responding to emergency braking conditions. All of these developments result from the desire to make driving during the day or night as comfortable and safe as possible.

The Statutory Instrument which comprises the GB Road Vehicle Lighting Regulation is the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 (Statutory Instrument 1989, No. 1796), as amended.

Relevant UN Regulations concerning vehicle lighting are:

  • No. 6 Direction indicators

  • No. 7 Front and rear position lamps, stop-lamps and end-outline marker lamps

  • No. 8 Headlamps equipped with halogen filament lamps (H1, H2, H3, HB3, HB4, H7, H8, H9, HIR1, HIR2 and/or H11)

  • No. 19 Front fog lamps

  • No. 20 Headlamps equipped with halogen filament lamps (H4lamps)

  • No. 23 Reversing and manoeuvring lamps

  • No. 31 Sealed-beam headlamps (SB), (incl. a halogen sealed-beam headlamp unit)

  • No. 37 Filament lamps in approved lamp units

  • No. 38 Rear fog lamps

  • No. 48 Installation of lighting and light-signalling devices

  • No. 50 Position, stop, direction indicator lamps for mopeds and motorcycles

  • No. 53 Installation of lighting and light-signalling devices for L3 vehicles

  • No. 56 Headlamps (mopeds)

  • No. 57 Headlamps (motorcycles)

  • No. 72 Headlamps (HS1 lamps) (motorcycles)

  • No. 74 Installation of lighting and light-signalling devices (mopeds)

  • No. 76 Headlamps for mopeds

  • No. 77 Parking lamps

  • No. 82 Headlamps (HS2) (mopeds)

  • No. 86 Installation of lighting and light-signalling devices for agricultural tractors

  • No. 87 Daytime running lamps

  • No. 91 Side-marker lamps

  • No. 98 Headlamps with gas-discharge light sources

  • No. 99 Gas-discharge light sources

  • No. 112 Headlamps equipped with filament lamps and/or light-emitting diode (LED) modules

  • No. 113 Headlamps equipped with filament, gas-discharge light sources or LED modules

  • No. 123 Adaptive front-lighting systems (AFS)

  • No. 128 Light Emitting Diode (LED) sources

Equivalent EU Directives exist and can be found at As an example, Council Directive 76/756/EEC, as amended, relates to lighting and light-signalling devices on motor vehicles and their trailers. This has now been amended to allow dedicated daytime running lights, adaptive front lighting systems and emergency stop signals as they are all “expected to have a positive influence on road safety” (Commission Directive 2008/89/EC).

Following the CARS 21 High Level Group recommendation, there is an initiative for European Directives to be replaced by the corresponding UN Regulations. Commission Regulation EU 523/2012 (and preceding EU Regulations) already sets out the inclusion of certain UN Regulations in the European vehicle type-approval legislation.

Higher intensity headlights have the potential to offer better illumination during night time driving. This could be associated with the potential for casualty reductions. However, increased light intensity will also be associated in an increase in the ratio of head light luminance to ambient light levels and as has been suggested, a possible increase in the likelihood of glare. Glare can detract from optimal observation and hence vulnerable road users and other obstacles could be detected later or not even observed at all. Also, glare resistance declines with age and therefore is an important consideration for older drivers on the roads at night.

Also, in certain circumstances, it may be expected that the use of vehicle headlights in the presence of road lighting will not necessarily improve the luminance contrast of a target located on the road (Ekrias et al., 2008).

The latest advanced frontal lighting system technologies, including concepts such as automatically adjustable beam dipping and vulnerable road user detection, seem able to maximise the benefits from increased output headlights whilst minimising the potential negative aspects for other road users.

Reaction times to brake lights with neon and LED light sources are shorter than to incandescent bulb lights. Also, neon and LEDs are generally more efficient at generating light of the appropriate saturated red colour than filtered incandescent lamps. It may be that 2014 sees the sale of the first car which will not have a single light bulb (Mueller, 2013). Instead this vehicle may rely solely on LEDs to provide all lighting.

Under controlled conditions, it is expected that benefits of daytime running lights can be demonstrated, as for motorcyclists (Smither and Torrez, 2010). However, due to confounding factors the importance of these benefits in real-world data analyses for passenger-vehicles and motorcycles seems difficult to determine with statistical certainty, although general trends are encouraging. The magnitude of the effect of DRLs for bicyclists is reported as being substantial, even when analysing all accidents with personal injury (Madsen et al., 2013).

  • Date Added: 03 Apr 2012, 08:17 AM
  • Last Update: 25 Jan 2014, 11:47 AM