Canada Makes Moves to Stop 'Phantom Vehicles'

Dear Car Talk:

I had a scary experience last night. I borrowed my friend's car for an errand, got in the car and drove away.

The lights on the dashboard were on, so I assumed my headlights were on. But they weren't. It turns out that at night, the dashboard looks exactly the same whether the headlights are on or not. The only way to tell, apparently, is to look for the little, tiny headlight icon. After several drivers flashed their lights at me, I finally figured out what was wrong.

Shouldn't dashboard lights stay off unless your headlights are on? Wouldn't that be safer? If the dashboard was dark, I certainly would have known to turn on my lights at night! -- Sharon

I agree with you 100%, Sharon. And so does the government of Canada. Canada calls cars like yours "phantom vehicles" when they're driving at night without headlights or taillights on. And now they've put a stop to it. They implemented three new requirements in 2021.

First, all cars in Canada are already required to have daytime running lights. Those are always-on, dimmer lights up front that add to a car's visibility during the day. But until recently, there was no requirement that DRLs include any lighting at the back of the car. The whole purpose of DRLs is to make cars easier to see -- during the day, but also when visibility is poor. Up until now, they've helped you see cars coming at you. Now, with taillights included, they'll help you see cars driving in front of you, too.

Second, any car with DRLs must automatically turn on the car's full set of headlights, taillights and side markers at night. This is a simple technology that most cars now have anyway. But it's an option, and you have to choose the "automatic" setting on your headlight switch. Canada's new law requires it be the default setting -- so no one can forget to turn on their full set of lights at night.

And finally, the new law eliminates the problem you had, Sharon. It forbids dashboard lights from being illuminated unless the car's full exterior lights are on.

These are all very smart, sensible requirements. And we hope -- like those cold fronts Canada sends us every year -- these rules quickly make it down to the lower 48.


Ready for a new ride? When the time comes to part with your old car, donate it to your favorite NPR station. They will turn it into more of the programs you love. Here's how.

Todays Car-o-Scope

What the stars say about your car for 5/1/2022
A disagreement over climate control settings will lead to an argument about your spouse's ancestry.
Select your sign
  1. Aries
  2. Taurus
  3. Gemini
  4. Cancer
  5. Leo
  6. Virgo
  7. Libra
  8. Scorpio
  9. Sagittarius
  10. Capricorn
  11. Aquarius
  12. Pisces