My schedule has me driving a two-lane highway after twilight. I often encounter vehicles without headlights on, causing a very dangerous situation, especially when passing a vehicle. People don’t seem to realize that headlights at this time of day are primarily so others can see you, not so you can see the road.
I flash my lights at them, but rarely does this have any effect. Since you, Crabby, have been chosen to right all wrongs, I turn to you for advice.
The Highway Vigilante
I’m not entirely sure you thought through your pseudonym there. When I think “vigilante,” I think of someone who enforces their own version of justice through extralegal means. Batman is a vigilante. The Punisher is a vigilante. You? You’re a safety-minded good Samaritan.
Those other guys are known for swift and brutal retribution upon evildoers. They’re controversial by nature, because they bypass our dearly held notions of due process and fair trials. Flashing your lights at cars with their headlights off isn’t vigilantism; it’s politeness. This is not controversial, because it doesn’t infringe in any way on anyone’s rights to legal justice. (I did not consult any constitutional scholars for that analysis, but I’m pretty sure it’s correct.)
I bring up the distinction for two reasons: One, imprecise use of language is a pet peeve; and two, I don’t have any real advice for you but I still have to fill the allotted space for this column. I will say, regardless of your clear lack of understanding of vigilantism, that you’re right about everything else in your email. Way too many jerks out there are driving around in the haze of twilight or later without their durn fool lights on. And it’s true that headlights at that time of day are more useful and important for being seen than for illuminating the road. They’re putting themselves and other drivers at risk.
A bit of internet research suggests (entirely anecdotally) that more people are forgetting to turn on their lights these days because dashboard gauges in newer cars are always lit, as opposed to only lighting up when the headlights are turned on. I don’t know if that’s true, but it makes enough sense to be plausible. And if that’s the case, the people with their lights off aren’t malicious so much as (let’s diplomatically say) absentminded.
Way back in 2007 someone asked the blog for the NPR show “Car Talk” essentially the same thing you asked me, and part of the answer was that sometimes it takes a few people flashing their lights at an oblivious lights-off driver before that person gets the point. So take heart, (not really a) Vigilante, your efforts may not be in vain. You may be the first or second person when three are required. You’re doing your part.
Hope that helps.
• Please send your questions, complaints and irritations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Dear Crabby.”