In October of 2016 the Japanese Ministry of Transport started the clock toward the day when automakers would start being required to equip all new vehicles with automatic headlamps. And now it’s April, that day has come.
The mandate is being phased in: it first applies to all newly-introduced passenger vehicle models from 1 April 2020, while models introduced before that date can’t be offered for first sale without automatic lights from October of 2021. Newly-introduced buses with more than 11 seats and trucks heavier than 3.5 tonnes will come under the requirement from April 2021, and finally all trucks and buses from October 2023. Some sources report DRLs per UN R87 are to be phased in on the same schedule.
The system won’t automatically turn on the lights of a vehicle that’s running but parked (defined as the transmission being in Park and/or the parking brake applied).
A requirement of this sort has been advocated here in DVN, but Japan’s is believed to be the first such mandate in the world. It comes in response to an alarming number of elderly pedestrians and cyclists being hit in traffic at dusk because drivers had not switched on their headlamps.
According to a survey by the Japan Automobile Federation, 30% of automobiles in Japan were equipped with automatic lights as of August 2014. Those systems allowed drivers to override the automatic switching and turn the lights on or off manually in the conventional manner. But under the new standards, drivers will be allowed to operate the lights manually only during daylight. After dark the lamps will be switched on automatically, and drivers will not be able to turn them off while the vehicle is running at night.
That will take some adaptation by drivers in Japan, where local custom is to be polite toward opposing drivers by turning off the headlamps and using only position lights while waiting at red stop-and-go lights. But too many drivers forget to switch the headlamps back on once the traffic light goes green, and people generally tend to believe they can still see objects outside even when it starts getting dark, so they don’t turn on the headlamps until it becomes very dark, rendering pedestrians invisible and vulnerable.
The new requirements are generally in accord with UN Regulation 48: the lamps must switch on within two seconds when the ambient light level decreases to less than 1,000 lux—a level comparable to that of 15 minutes before sunset on a clear day. And they’ll turn off automatically in 5 to 300 seconds when the ambient light exceeds 7,000 lux, a level internationally recognized as sufficient for safe driving.
In 2014, a JAF survey covering 45,000 vehicles revealed that the headlights of only 0.9% of the surveyed vehicles were on 30 minutes before sunset. While the lights of 10% were on five minutes before dusk, the headlights of just 22.8 percent were on even when the sun set. “Switching on car lights earlier is important, not only in that it allows drivers to see objects outside more clearly, but that it helps pedestrians see approaching cars”, said an official of the ministry’s Road Transport Bureau. “We believe turning on the headlights earlier will help elderly people who have weakened eyesight see vehicles around them, leading to fewer accidents at dusk.”