New safety standards aim to rid roads of 'phantom vehicles'

Veteran police officer says flashing your high beams isn't illegal

Transport Canada is bringing in new lighting rules for vehicles to improve road safety.

New manufacturing standards will kick in for all new cars sold in Canada beginning September 2021 to stop so-called "phantom vehicles" — cars operating without lights in the dark.

As of 2021, vehicles will be required to be more visible in low-light conditions by having one of three features:

- Daytime running lights and tail lights that come on when the vehicle instrument panel is illuminated and the vehicle is in operation. 

- Headlights, tail lights and side marker lights that automatically turn on in low-light conditions.

- A driver's instrument panel that stays dark so the driver knows to turn on all the lights.

The new rules also will allow for new, advanced lighting technologies that boost driver visibility without blinding oncoming traffic.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who announced the new rules today, said cars currently on the road are still at risk of becoming phantom vehicles if all the lights are not turned on in low light.

His department has partnered with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) on a public awareness campaign about vehicle lights called "See and be Seen."

Ian Jack of the CAA said regulation going forward and public awareness during the transition is "the right way to go."

"Making sure your headlights and tail lights are on when it's dark could save a life. Maybe even your own," he said.

Garneau's office has received an influx of letters from Canadians concerned about the safety hazard posed by phantom vehicles.

Automatically lit

Daytime headlights and dashboard lights are automatically lit when most modern vehicles are started, and many drivers assume their full-power outside lights are also activated when they aren't.

Canada was the first country in the world to require that all new vehicles be equipped with daytime running lights — headlamps that are illuminated as soon as the car or truck is started.

That 1989 requirement has reduced two-vehicle crashes by between 5.3 per cent and 15 per cent, according to three Canadian studies from the 1990s, two of them by Transport Canada.

Since then, many manufacturers have added dashboard lights that are always on.

But that combination of always-on headlamps and dashboard lights has introduced a new danger: vehicles that are invisible from the rear because the drivers forget to manually switch on their lights in dark conditions.