Ah, weather. when the sky’s looking grim, life still goes on—and so do our journeys. Unfortunately, dull weather can compromise our driving—in particular, that all-important ability: to see and be seen.
Here’s where using your sidelights comes in. It’s crucial that you know exactly how to light your car responsibly and legally, whatever’s happening around beyond your windscreen. There are, of course, headlights. You’re probably well aware of their effectiveness in helping you see through the gloom. But are you so well-versed in your knowledge of sidelights?
Whether you’re looking to answer common questions in your upcoming theory test, or are after some practical driving tips, we’ll explain exactly how to use your lights to get safely from A to B—and when to keep them on, even though you’re parked and out of the car.
Sidelights: what are they and how are they different from headlights?
Sidelights (sometimes called parking lights) are positioned on the four corners of your car.
At the front, they are usually contained in the same unit as your normal headlights. When illuminated, they emit a small white light. They’re also connected to some of the rear lights; when you turn them on, red tail lights on each side will light up, and so will your back number plate.
The amount of light sidelights produce is much dimmer than that of other lights on your car. That’s because they aren’t designed to illuminate the road ahead of you in quite the same way as your dipped headlights or full beams. Instead, they help to keep you visible to other road users.
They also use much less power than your headlights—which comes in handy, as we explore when and how they should be used.
When you turn them on—usually with a twist of one of the indicator stalks or by turning a separate dial—you should see the sidelight symbol light up on your dashboard. This usually consists of two semi-circular type shapes in mirror image, each emitting light beams.
When should I use my sidelights?
Although they won’t help you see much further along the road ahead, sidelights have other, very important purposes.
① To keep yourself visible
Sidelights might be small, but they are mightily effective for helping other drivers to spot you. They’re useful in the middle ground between great visibility and struggling to see.
So, when it’s not dark enough, or poor enough weather, to warrant headlights, using your sidelights still helps you remain visible to others. This is particularly important in helping other road users judge how far they are away from you, how fast you’re travelling and what type of vehicle you’re driving.
Having one on each corner helps drivers to gauge how wide your vehicle is. It shows them that you’re in a car—rather than, say, on a motorbike. That way, oncoming vehicles can give you the right amount of space as they pass you, and vehicles behind you can work out whether or not it’s safe to overtake.
② As parking lights
You should always turn your headlights off when you’re parked, in order to avoid dazzling other drivers. But it’s a different story when it comes to sidelights.
In fact, one of their main purposes is for when you’re parking at night. That’s why, in some countries, they are known as parking lights, or parking lamps. They help others to see your vehicle when it’s dark, so that it’s less likely that anyone will crash into you. The Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations of 1989 tell us that parking without leaving your sidelights on can actually be illegal.
Chances are you won’t have seen too many cars do this, though, because the rule only applies in specific situations. You are required by law to keep your parking lights on if you’re parking:
- between sunset and sunrise
- on a road or lay-by with a speed limit of over 30 mph, and
- are not parked within a designated parking space
For instance, if you’re parked by the side of the road on a country road, where the national speed limit dictates a maximum speed of 60 mph, then you must make sure your car is illuminated while it’s dark. Not doing so can lead to a fine.
③ As a backup
Driving in the dark with faulty headlights is against the law, but there’s nothing much you can do if you’re already driving and your headlight bulb suddenly blows or stops working.
In this situation, your sidelights are handy as a backup. Again, a single working headlight might fool drivers into thinking you’re a motorbike. Add in sidelights, and it’ll be much more obvious how wide your vehicle really is.
Of course, they aren’t going to give you huge amounts of visibility, but they’ll help keep you safe as you travel to your destination, where you can hopefully get the headlight replaced. Not ideal, but definitely better than nothing.