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Automatic headlights explained, one more time

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Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011 12:00 am

I know a few weeks ago I went on a rant about turning on your headlights when it's dark. And I explained the whole theory about how automatic headlights work. Although today, I realized that I left something out. And that is the fog!

I know I have mentioned it before, but we have all gotten way too casual about driving. It is nothing for people to jump into the car with a burger, fries and a soda in one hand, a newspaper in the other, phone conversation in one ear, a radio show in the other, then juggle an electric razor or make-up using the sun visor mirror at the same time. All while piloting a 3,500-pound deadly weapon through fog without headlights.

Really? Think I'm exaggerating? Unfortunately, I'm not.

Now, all that other stuff people do while driving is a whole other topic in itself, so I'll try to stick to just the headlights in the fog for now.

In the fog, during the daytime, turning on your headlights allows people to see you! I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty darn good idea to me, in addition to being required by the California Vehicle Code.

Let's do some math, so I can illustrate a point. I really hate doing math, so bear with me for a second. For every 10 mph a vehicle is traveling, it covers approximately 15 feet per second. So, a vehicle traveling at 35 mph, covers approximately 50 feet of ground every second.

Now let's imagine it's a foggy day. You are entering Turner Road from a side street, and the speed limit on Turner is 35 mph. You look both ways, and see no cars. But there is a car coming. It's doing 35 mph, and because the driver of the oncoming car has no headlights on, you don't see it.

Let's say that oncoming car is 300 feet away from you when you start to go. From the moment you release the brake and start to move, the clock just started for a collision to occur in 6 seconds' time.

I'm not trying to start a debate over who's fault it would be, or who should have done what, or any of that. I'm just trying to illustrate how fast things happen, and some things to keep in mind while driving. That's it.

Here's a quick speed limit tip: If the speed limit is 35 mph, but the fog is so thick you can't see the car in front of you, then guess what? If you are driving 35 mph, you are speeding! You are speeding because it is unsafe for the current road conditions.

Headlights greatly improve the ability for other vehicles to see you in the fog. Automatic headlights will rarely ever turn themselves on during daytime in the fog. Headlights do not have a fog sensor! But your car does have a headlight switch, and you, the driver, have the ability to turn it on.

I know some of you will still argue the automatic headlights thing, and that's fine. I'm just not so sure I would use that as my argument in court if you choose to fight the ticket.

So, to those of you who think I am overdoing the whole headlights thing, and the safe driving thing, I suggest this: Get a ride to the DMV. Please don't drive yourself. Walk up to a DMV representative, and hand them your driver's license. Kindly say, "Thanks for your time. It's been a good run. But for everyone's safety, including my own, I'm hanging it up."

We all make mistakes, and mistakes are going to happen, but I honestly think most are preventable. Just take a few seconds before mashing on the gas pedal to think about all the boring basics we learned way back in driver's ed.

Drive safely.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at jbiskup@pd.lodi.gov; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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