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Headlights and rain go together like coffee and cream

Published on: July 27, 2011


SUN CITY CENTER – Turn on vehicle lights in the rain or get soaked – for more than $100, that is. 

This is the warning now being issued by Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputies to South County drivers, particularly to those in the retirement community, as the 2011 sub-tropical rainy season gets underway. 

Florida Statute, Section 316.217, subsection (1)(b), specifically requires that on any vehicle being operated in the state headlights must be displayed “during any rain, smoke, or fog.”, Deputy Rob Thornton pointed out this week. 

Failure to comply with the statutory requirement can mean a ticket and the fine for the offense is $104.00, he added. 

Thornton, former community resource deputy in Sun City Center and temporarily spending more time in the community during the current short-term absence of CRD Chris Girard, told The Observer early in the week he has been alarmed by the number of SCC drivers seen on the roads during routine rain storms without vehicle headlights activated.  The number is great enough, he added, that he has begun stopping the violating drivers he has observed during patrols in his HCSO cruiser through the community. 

Many drivers he has spoken with said they believed their headlights were displayed because they assumed their vehicle’s dashboard sensors had automatically switched the lamps on, the deputy noted.  But, the fact is the sensor, triggered by ambient light through the windshield, may not activate when visually impairing rain begins to fall, he added.   In other words, the law may kick in before the sensor does.

There are three possible ways to adequately light a moving modern  vehicle, said Sonny Segovino, automotive electrical and electronics specialist with Hancock’s Riverview Tire and Auto Service.  Probably the two most commonly relied upon are the automatic method set in motion by the light-activated dashboard sensor and the constant lighting method activated day or night, regardless of conditions, when the ignition key starts  the engine.  The third method is a manual action intentionally undertaken by the driver and, once in times past, the only means of activating headlights, he added.

The automatic sensor process is multi-step and involves calibration, he added, with the dashboard mechanism triggering resistors in turn signaling the computer which sends a message via relay to the lights.

The calibration applied in the automatic systems may vary to a degree from maker to maker, Segovino suggested, a fact that could account for headlights activated automatically in one vehicle before they are lighted in another vehicle even though both are exposed to the same conditions at the same time.   That calibration is done in the factory, he noted, and cannot be changed by a mechanic. 

To be safe and to avoid a penalty for violation of state traffic law, Thornton said the best method to be employed by drivers during rain storms – or any other visually impairing event – is the manual approach. 

A good rule of thumb, he added, is: “if you turn on your windshield wipers to clear the windshield of rain, you need your headlights.  Make it a practice under those conditions to reach down and turn on your lights.  Then, you won’t see my red lights or be looking at a $104 ticket for an offense that could have been avoided with a single motion.”   

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson