If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Foggin' Stupid

I was commenting on a fine rant over at MajorGav's PetrolBlog where he rails against the use of fog lights when it isn't foggy (an amusing and timely article) when I realised that I had banged on so much in my comment that I had virtually written a new blogpost. So, with necessary amendments, here it is:


It's that time of year again, when both morning and evening commutes are in the dark, the weather is turning wet and chilly, and the road surfaces are getting trickier. I'd like to say a word to all car and van drivers on behalf of motorcyclists. Please, please, please make sure your headlights are adjusted properly and don't use fog lights, either front or rear, unless absolutely necessary. I know that some of you have them angled forward and call them 'driving lights' (what else would they be? Knitting lights?) but the result is the same.

We - bikers - don't have windscreen wipers, and what for you is a hard glass windscreen is, for us, a bit of soft plastic that scratches almost without touching - and costs 30 or 40 quid a pop to replace. Proper rain, paradoxically, is OK, as the water beads up and is blown off as long as you keep up a decent speed. But light rain or, worse, mist leaves a coating of cloudy droplets on your visor and cuts both visual penetration and contrast. Double that, treble that, if you have followed a lorry or bus which is sucking up a mist of road muck in its wake. 100 yards is enough. Bad enough when wet, but then it dries opaque.

Add an unlit road, and an approaching car with main beams on (or squinty dipped beams, or macho 'fog' lights) and you are literally riding into a black hole. You can see nothing, not the edge of the road, nor the surface, nor if there are any pedestrians tucked away in the shadows. The only answer is to pile on the brakes, slow down to a crawl and hope for the best.

The blazing rear fog light when it isn't foggy has the same effect (although the red is easier to deal with, and it's 21W x 2 rather than 60W x 4). In proper fog, a life-saver; in light rain or clear conditions a painful and annoying added hazard. But they are 'safety features', so it's OK to leave them on, right?

One thing about misused rear foglights that MajorGav didn't mention is the brake reflex on busy roads and motorways. You get attuned to the brightness level of everyone's rear lights, and when you see a much brighter one you assume someone up ahead is braking. You look, you react, and are ready to brake. When some muppet with a fog light on is up ahead, you keep seeing this between the other cars and the brain keeps twitching the brake reflex. That's annoying enough (the brain constantly going onto high alert for nothing) but it's also dangerous - after a while you become acclimatised, and then when somebody does brake in a genuine emergency, you just think "oh, it's that twat with the fog light again" and fail to react. Cue massive pile-up when nobody reacts in time.

Please just remember the Highway Code, Section 226:
You MUST use headlights when visibility is seriously reduced, generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres (328 feet). You may also use front or rear fog lights but you MUST switch them off when visibility improves.
It's not difficult: switch them on when the fog makes it hard to see, and switch them off when visibility gets better. Everybody's happy.

And having four lights at the front does not make your car go faster, or give you a bigger willy.


  1. Also, even if it is foggy, if the vehicle behind can see you without your rear foglight, turn it off.

    At least the wifes Toyota has a non-latching fog light switch, which means that the bright red annoyance is always off when the side lights are put on. Not that she knows where the switch is!

    Rear fog lights are another one of those "safety" features that are generally making life more dangerous....

  2. Thanks for the link, Richard. Glad the rant inspired you into doing one of your own.

    Stay safe out there.

  3. And another thing ...

    If it's misty USE YOUR HEADLIGHTS. What your grandad called sidelights are now called parking lights for a reason. Next time it's misty, take a look for a car with sidelights on. I guarantee you will see the shape of the car before you see the lights. Utterly useless. They probably think they are saving money.

  4. If visors now cost £30-40 I'm bloody glad I packed in motorcycling some years ago! But nothing changes, and your comments are completely true. The VAST majority of road users seem to forget they are operating in a constantly changing environment, and just because it was raining or dark when you started your journey doesn't mean it still is...

    I've always hated rear fog lights and think they should all have a "latching" operation as mentioned by Mick Anderson. They should be controlled by a relay which only holds in until the ignition is next turned off, and would mean that they only come on for the duration of a particular journey, and not for months afterwards!

    Oh, and use the parking brake in traffic queues - I am SICK of being dazzled by lazy bastards who can't even be bothered to do what they were taught when learning to drive.

    My old Panda has "Dim Dip" headlights (which were fitted on most UK spec cars for a few years around the late 80's). These are a very good half-way house for gloomy days, as they are far more visible than sidelights, without being as dazzling as full headlights. No doubt they were banned by EU regulations.

  5. I fully agree with you Richard and would urge the government to adopt a stringent policy on the use of fog lights front and rear...
    It should be made legal for teams of clay pigeon shooters to wait by the roadside and 'take ou' any offending lights that are being used in absence of the necessary conditions...in my book they (the light owners and users) are just a bunch of complete tossers!

  6. Microdave, you put your finger on it. Conditions are always changing, but a lot of drivers aren't thinking that way. How often do you see a rear wiper scrubbing horribly at the rear window when it stopped raining half an hour ago?

    The visors are expensive, but these days they are pretty high-tech, with anti-scratch and anti-fog coatings. I make mine last a year, usually, which isn't so bad - and I change mine more than most.

    Dim-dip lights were a European idea, I believe, which didn't catch on here. All French cars used to have them. I expected it to become compulsory here, but it somehow faded away. I quite liked it too.

    Nominedeus - I think you are onto something here. Target practice and road safety combined - what's not to like?

  7. "How often do you see a rear wiper scrubbing horribly at the rear window when it stopped raining half an hour ago?"

    That was going to be my next gripe!

    I actually thought Dim-dip was a UK idea outlawed by EU legislation? Seemed more likely, but if the French had them for years you may well be right...

  8. You're right; I'm wrong. I checked in Wikipedia (it's under DRL). Dim-dip was a British idea which was outlawed due to lack of conformity with EU regulations. I had a Citroen BX with it, first time I had seen it, and I think I must have assumed it was a French idea.

    And now I know why all these Audis have these stupid LEDs all over the front, like chavvy Christmas trees.

  9. Sorry, that should read EC not EU. Showing the way things were heading, even in 1988.

  10. I'm still griping about the number of one handed drivers I when I walk around Knutsford. Heaven forbid what they are doing with the other....


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