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by James Ward

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Confession time.

I occasionally drive along with my fog lights on, rain hail or shine… and I love it.

There’s no accidental knock of the switch or a ‘what does this button do’ moment (looking at your rear foggy, Hyundai Excel owners…). It is always a measured, intentional action.

I know it’s frowned upon. I know it is (for the most part) illegal. I know I shouldn’t do it. But I’m not going to stop.

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This doesn’t mean bull-bar mounted aftermarket spotlights or fancy LED light bars, by the way. I’m talking about low-mount, factory-fit, fared-in lamps.

Mention a Euro-spec yellow wash and I’ll go weak at the knees.

My addiction started innocently enough. It was the early 90s, I was on P-plates, and zipping about town in my Mum’s Renault 19 hatch. Turns out the curvy, blue five-door simply looked cooler with its French foggies on.

The yellow beams and quad light-source nose gave the hatchback of Notre Dame a visually lower stance. The poor thing only had 69kW – I had to make it more interesting somehow.

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Things only progressed from here.

Back when eBay was actually good, I found a set of original Honda lower lamps for my VTEC EG Civic. Offered as original equipment in the US, I made sure they were fitted the same day the parcel arrived. I even adjusted the wiring relay to allow them to run without the main beams on. Parkers and fogs – hard parking was born and I didn’t even know it.

By now, I was actively choosing cars to buy based on their additional lighting.

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Remember that guy in the WRX you cursed for running those big, round driving lamps during a light shower on the Tullamarine Freeway – yeah, that was probably me. Japanese-import Mitsubishi Evo VIIIs had a working foglamp as part of the complex headlamp array, where the Australian delivered cars did not. The more you know.

Sure, I had the odd problem over the years. I once drove my Mum’s Citroen BX GTi and hit the switch without first removing the opaque covers. What is probably the only instance of Lucas electrics working when they ideally shouldn’t have resulted in the black plastic covers melting over the lenses.

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It wasn’t just about the look, either. The low-angle wash of light directly in front of the car became really useful when negotiating curbs and bumps in particularly dark or wet weather. I even found myself actively ‘selling’ the positives to my friends as a way of rationalising my habit.

It wasn’t until quite recently, though, that I had my first legal run in with what – in my opinion – is one of the more stupid road rules in the country.

On the way home from a dinner party one rainy night, I was stopped for a random breath test in my Volvo XC90. “Blow into the tube please”, said the young officer. I complied and returned a zero reading. His senior colleague walked up and pointed to the front of the car. “What’s going on here?”, he asked.

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What was wrong? Had I hit something, was a light out, was the car leaking?

“Your fog lights are on and it is not foggy – that warrants a $116 fine,” he said.

Unusually, I was lost for words.

Here I am, driving a safe car with new tyres at a safe speed with a zero blood-alcohol content and I’m the bad guy for having extra lights on? The factory bulb in the Volvo was a 55W H1 – the same as a standard headlight – mounted low and pointing down. Why the issue?

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“Your lights can blind and dazzle oncoming drivers, turn them off,” instructed the officer. I complied, and continued my journey home – confused.

I have been driving now for over half my life, and I’ve never once found oncoming lights so blinding and dazzling that I have lost control and careened into a tree.

I have never found myself blinking away spots on my retina or wishing I had a solar-eclipse style shoebox and pinhole to view the road due to errant use of vehicle lights.

These are small, harmless bulbs on the lower valance of a car, and they are being treated like the opening of the Ark of the Covenant.

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Misaligned main beams or activated high-beams, yes, these are substantially brighter than you need or expect on suburban streets. But, even when at their worst, just dip the mirror or adjust your glance and move on.

Quite fairly, home-made HID upgrades or 200W bulb-swaps sway into the realm of unroadworthy modifications, but oncoming cars with low-level, factory-standard driving lamps? Please.

Every WRX in the world could drive past and my pupil wouldn’t dilate a micron.

Where I do have a problem is cars that run with one or both lights off at dusk, or in poor weather. I’d factor ‘nearly merging on top of you because you were basically invisible’ well and truly above ‘your lights are brighter than normal’ in the risk-profile ranking of issues on the road.

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The most common (and quite frankly, only) rationale against the use of these lights commonly states that they must not “cause undue dazzle or discomfort to oncoming drivers and other road users”.

I’m pretty sure that lights make it easier for other road users to spot you? Arguably, having your main beams on is just as visible with the fog lamps as without – but it’s no less ‘dazzling’.

How do you even measure a dazzle, anyway?

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And hey, if you find yourself incapacitated by the brightness of a quad-lit SS ute, then I’d suggest the problem is your eyes and you should probably get off the road and see your local ophthalmologist.

Besides, I know I’d prefer to be ‘dazzled’ than ‘surprised’ by a car with no lights on.

It seems I’m not alone either.

Just the other night I lost count at over 20 cars using their low-mount lights (not including LED running lamps) on a short drive through inner Melbourne.  Not once was I dazzled, not once was I blinded. No other cars speared off the road or spontaneously combusted due to the presence of heightened lumens.

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Is the ‘glare and dazzle’ argument a bit of a wild goose chase when it comes to being an actual problem, something that could potentially be described (scientifically) as pure bullshit?

A quick straw poll around the CarAdvice office yielded mixed and heated opinions, though.

There were suggestions that choosing to drive with my fog lamps on was socially akin to lighting up an entire pack of Horizon 50s at a primary school picnic on a total fire-ban day.

Poor Paul Maric practically signed up for Lasik surgery at the prospect of the little green light with wavy bacon illuminating my dash.

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The outrage is matched online. Search for people querying the fog lamp laws and you’ll be met with an oversupply of self-righteous commenters (welcome to CarAdvice, by the way – come for the rage, stay for the top-notch automotive content) who unleash with a spray so venomous and a guilt-free smugness so bright that it alone assaults my cornea like a bajillion-Watt aftermarket HID conversion.

Is this hate really reasoned?

I found an article from 2012 suggesting that Police in Northern Victoria were conducting a blitz on fog lamp use based on the volume of complaints from other drivers… Must have been a really slow year for drunk, drug affected, unlicensed, unregistered, bald-tyred, distracted, tired road users, then.

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I would never make light of road safety, but if ever there was a victimless crime, surely a casual blaze of the Hellas is it. Afterall, if the appeal is to visually lower your car, a bit of extra light is bound to be safer than a set of cut springs.

Am I alone in feeling our time and effort, both in vilifying ‘users’ like me or expending Police resources could be better spent? Maybe, perhaps, a start could be pulling over cars without any lights on at all?

I’ve matured and measured my habit since the early days. I’m much more a recreational user now, maybe lighting-up when the time, mood and car are right.

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I even recognise that standard fog lamps, in the majority of Australian weather conditions, do absolutely sod-all to improve outward-facing lighting. A lighter dip here, a brighter curb there – it’s not a hugely measurable result, especially with modern LED lighting systems.

But now is the time for solidarity.

Are you a fog lamp user? Do you want to feel you can share your experiences and thoughts without being shouted down by your sensitive retina having colleagues? Then this is the forum for you.

I am proposing we decriminalise fog-lamp use.

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The positives (cars look cooler with fog lamps on) far outweigh the negative (Paul’s photophobic pupils). Policing this is a drain on our society. Not everyone does it, but let’s be kinder to those who do.

Stop law 217. Make recreational fog-lamp use legal.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Do you enjoy a casual light from time-to-time? Or is your face melting at the sheer prospect of this?

Let us know in the comments below.




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