Idiot lights: aka fog lights


idiot lights
Have you noticed how many people drive with their idiot lights on all the time? These are supposed to be “fog” lights, but idiots drive with them day and night, good and bad weather. Hence the name: idiot lights.*

Not that they’re illegal (they should be…): the Ontario Highway Traffic Act allows a minimum of two and up to four headlights on the front of the vehicle, so they slip in under that provision. But fog lights are not meant to be used as headlights for daytime or clear driving at night: they’re meant for specific visibility conditions. Not for regular driving. The Act obviously doesn’t say anything about blinding other drivers, being inconsiderate of just an asshole, however.**

The term ‘Idiot lights’ refers to the extra set of headlights placed either between or below the main set (not the daytime running lights, which are low-intensity and separate). They were also known as auxiliary lights or even ‘driving lights.’ Once sold as add-on accessories, they have become standard on most pickup trucks and SUVs, and are increasingly common on everyday sedans.

These used to be called “fog lights“ but that term seems to have fallen out of favour because bad drivers use them in any weather and never turn them off. We call them idiot lights today for one, or both, reasons:

  1. They cannot be turned off (so the owner is an idiot for buying a vehicle with such a limited feature).
  2. They won’t be turned off even in good weather (so the driver is an idiot for annoying oncoming drivers and pedestrians).***

Idiot lights are often promoted as nighttime or bad weather vision enhancers. Well, that might be true, but only if they pointed down towards the road. Most seem to point out and often up, like the regular headlights. Which is right into the eyes of oncoming drivers – four headlights in your eyes instead of two. Plus they add glare on wet pavement that makes it harder to identify lanes and road markings. says of these lights and the drivers who use them:

Many motorists drive with their fog lights on at night even though there isn’t a slight hint of fog anywhere to be found. Fog lights are designed to be used when the fog is so dense the headlights reflect back off the water droplets and make vision difficult. Fog lights are mounted low to cut under the fog and light up the road surface under the mist. Driving with fog lights on during clear nights does two things. One, it blinds oncoming drivers which is very dangerous and, two, it shows everyone else you don’t understand fog lights and probably think yourself quite sporty.

Their sole purpose, in an age of increasingly uncivility, is to annoy oncoming drivers and reduce their vision. And it works. You used to have to turn on your high beams to get this effect, now you can buy a vehicle with annoyance built right in. And as an added bonus for the truly ignorant, you can annoy other drivers with both your high beams and your idiot lights in tandem. The real sociopath also replaces standard bulbs with high-intensity bulbs (HIDs) to double or triple the blinding effect!

One person on the Canadian Automobile Sports Club (CASC) forum bemoaned a familiar complaint:

Why do people insist on driving with their fog lights on when there is no fog?
I live in Durham region with plenty of dark, undivided roadways. Time and again drivers in the opposing direction come up on me with their fog lights glaring – in many cases it’s worse than high beams.
Is it cause you think you look cool? – you don’t.
Do you think it’s cute when I flick my highbeams from a distance to indicate your lights are too bright – and then you put on your actual highbeams to show your legal and then return to your fogs and blind me as we pass.
Do you think it improves your vision in the dark? – it doesn’t (I’ve tested lighting on / off / high beams / low beams / fogs, etc on many different vehicles)
I even question if Fogs help any when there is fog!
Purely cosmetic and almost in the “rice” category.
So, subject to comments and discussion – I’m starting a “Just say NO to Fog lights” campaign.

Since this was posted in 2006, I doubt his campaign reached many people. An article in the Globe and Mail, from 2012, noted:

The vast majority of “fog lights” we see on vehicles today are useless affectations, secondary light sources that accomplish nothing other than creating this type of reaction for those in oncoming vehicles… Now we have a raft of vehicles driving around with these useless lights aglow day and night, in bright sunshine, clear, dark nights and making visibility worse in fog or other situations of restricted vision.

This behaviour is not simply inconvenient, antisocial, ignorant or egregious bad manners (although it is also all of these). It’s dangerous****, just like someone driving towards you with high beams on – your eyes take longer to adjust to the change in lighting and in that interim you have a much greater chance of missing something on the road. Like a deer or a pedestrian. When they’re behind you, their brightness reduces your own night vision looking ahead and again reduces your ability to see into the dark.

The BC Ministry of Transportation warns:

The use of fog lamps during good driving conditions can also blind other drivers – creating a significant safety hazard. It can also result in a fine enforceable by R.C.M.P. Never a good thing.

Would that Ontario had such a law! The province could quickly get out of its debt by enforcing it over a single year!

Idiot lights are also a danger to motorcyclists, as one writer notes:

The rampant use of fog lights on cars causes riders dangerous glare…
“Having a car on low beam HIDs come over a crest with a curve can be blinding and leaves you struggling to pick up the corner entry which is somewhere to the right behind the lights,” he says. “On a narrow rural road this can be difficult. The saving grace is that as you approach the car, the glare disappears, due to the accurate cut-off of a low beam. “This is not the case with foglamps, particularly those that have become misaligned – it gets worse as you get closer…”
“It might just be telling us that the person driving with their fog lamps on is selfish.”

Selfish, ignorant, anti-social, stupid… I can think of a lot of appropriate names to call them.

In Ireland one article noted,
ONE-IN-EIGHT motorists is risking the lives of other road users by using their fog lights in clear weather… Mr Brett warned that drivers caught with broken lights face a fine of €1,000 on conviction.
“Never use rear fog lights in normal driving conditions as they tend to blind traffic coming behind you,” he said.

And in an urban setting, with regular, overhead street lights as well as ambient lighting from businesses, houses, malls, signs and so on – idiot lights really prove their name. Why would someone need additional luminance in such an already bright setting like a suburban street or a mall parking lot? Well, to irritate other drivers, of course!

it’s not uncommon to see numerous groups of several vehicles with idiot lights on, following one another like a parade of angry, hostile drivers. I know from my own driving experience that having a driver following closely with idiot lights on is extremely irritating because it makes looking in rearview mirrors difficult or even painful. Plus the brightness behind draws your attention from the road ahead.

So you have to wonder why none of them turned their idiot lights off so as not to blind the driver ahead. They can’t claim to be ignorant of the effect because it’s evident to any driver every time a car with idiot lights approaches. They can’t claim not to notice how these lights reduce night vision because in such a group every car followed by one with idiot lights has to be aware of the effect.

One can’t possibly argue that one’s own idiot lights have none of the dangerous, annoying, road-rage-enhancing effects that everyone else’s idiot lights have. So why not turn them off? The only answer can be that they are either too stupid to know how to turn them off, or they are deliberately trying to irritate or blind fellow drivers. Hence the name: idiot lights.

Idiot lights contribute to road rage over their brightness and glare. See, and even for sample discussions of road rage caused by idiot lights. Lots more of these online discussions can be found.

Unfortunately, it seems Canada is not governed by the same sort of rules about idiot lights as the UK Highway Code, where it states, “You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.”

If Ontario has such rules (I can’t find any), then they are NOT being enforced by police! This trend to see idiot lights placed on a larger range of vehicles worries me. It worries me on larger vehicles like pickup trucks because it makes a dangerous vehicle even more so. But on more smaller vehicles it could lead to a storm of accidents in the near future if this bad trend continues.*****

If you’re not an idiot, if you’re not anti-social, if you’re not trying to be an asshole and annoy other drivers, then do everyone a favour: PLEASE turn off your idiot lights in normal daytime or nighttime driving. Save them for when they’re designed to be used: in the fog.

* The term is also used to refer to dashboard lights that display obvious or unnecessary information.

** The US a href=””>DOT is looking into ways to regulate idiot lights, noting: “The drivers’ dependence upon artificial lighting and the lesser field of view at night are factors that contribute to this greater safety risk. In these circumstances, glare, whether at the levels that are annoying or disabling, increases the stress for drivers. Increasing stress for drivers in a more dangerous nighttime environment has adverse safety consequences, even if those consequences can not be precisely quantified. Many remedies for glare work by reducing the driver’s vision of the driving environment; for example, switching mirrors to the nighttime driving position or averting one’s eyes to the right shoulder instead of the middle of the road. It is reasonable to assume that reducing vision will lessen the amount of warning a driver has of particular risks, and that, in at least some cases, less reaction time will result in more crashes. Accordingly, NHTSA believes increased glare is something the American people are experiencing, and that this glare raises important safety concerns that need to be addressed thoughtfully and effectively.”.
Given the inability of American legislators to control the rising number of deaths and injuries from guns -“the only consumer products not regulated for health and safety in the United States” – one doubts laws to control the lesser threat of fog lights will be enacted. Using these lights in clement weather is illegal in many other places, including Australia.
*** They could equally be called ignoramus lights, bozo beams, uncivil lights, annoyance lamps, impolite beams, road rage lights, jerk beams or jackass lights, but idiot lights seems to serve the description well. Ironic that they’re also “head lights” since drivers don’t use their head when they keep these lights on.
**** Headlights can be adjusted, of course, by anyone with a screwdriver and five minutes of time to spare. From” Every driver knows from experience that being blinded by another car’s headlights is not only annoying but also dangerous since it results in vision being impaired. Straightening the headlamps out may be a little time consuming, but it is worth the effort.” But, I argue, idiots won’t give that extra effort because then they wouldn’t be able to annoy others so easily.
***** And that’s not even considering the trend to high-luminosity LEDs (HIDs) that are already bright enough to blind oncoming drivers without the addition of idiot lights. As noted on

“HID headlights are merely a stepping stone into the world of irritating driving habits, and just because your Xenons are so bright they’ve triggered epileptic seizures doesn’t mean you’ve achieved your full jerk potential. A more aggressive tactical maneuver than simple HID’s, fog lights elevate jerkdom to a whole new level… The second that sun slips below the horizon, you should be lighting those bad boys up like it’s 1964 and you’re patrolling Saigon for Vietcong insurgency. If you find that your OEM fog lights aren’t enough to illuminate every crevice of the Earth, consider investing in a high-density aftermarket roof-mounted lightbar. Remember: if your lights aren’t capable of guiding a shipping barge safely into port, you just aren’t trying hard enough.”

In the UK, these lights have been blamed on skyrocketing traffic accidents.

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