Extended night driving in the country with standard headlights can be tiring and stressful. You're constantly straining to peer ahead and make sure there are no obstacles on the road ahead or bounding out from the bushes.
Before choosing one of the latest options on the market for lighting up the winding roads, it pays to know the rules and regulations that apply to fitting additional lamps to your vehicle.
My thanks to Hettie Mills, of Busselton, for providing a timely reminder of this when she spotted a photo of mine in 4x4 Australia featuring a tricked-up rig with three spotlights.
If you have lights professionally fitted then you shouldn't have problems with the boys and girls in blue. However, as most kits come with detailed instructions on wiring, a handyperson may choose to undertake the task.
Kit instructions don't explain the rules and regulations though. If you're pulled over, ignorance of the law won't be a valid defence and you could find yourself with an unwelcome fine.
The two key documents you should review are available from the Department of Transport and online at transport.wa.gov.au.
The Road Traffic Act (Vehicle Standards) Rules 2002 provides the legalese in Part 8 - Lights and Reflectors. Vehicle Safety Branch Information Bulletin IB-123A Optional Front Lamps provides examples and explanations of what is permitted.
There are some key points when fitting driving lights. For details on other types of lights, such as fog lamps, cornering lamps or daytime running lights refer to the regulations.
Driving lights may only legally be used when there are no other vehicles 200m in front of your vehicle, either approaching, or moving in the same direction. The lights must turn off when you switch from high to low beam.
There are no height restrictions with regard to mounting position for driving lights. Normal practice is to install at the same level as vehicle headlights because it is illegal to dazzle another road user.
This means that while it might be legal to fit the lights to your roof rack, you will be more likely to dazzle drivers further away than 200m. Therefore, fitting lamps higher than the driver's eye level is not recommended.
Lights must be fitted in pairs - two lights or four symmetrically the same distance either side of the vehicle centre line and at the same height above ground level. Each light must project approximately the same amount of light. The lights must not protrude beyond the boundaries of the vehicle.
If you're considering the new LED light bars, note that two small light bars, fitted as per standard spotlights, would be compliant with the standards. The Department of Transport indicates that, in accordance with IB-123A, fitting a single long bar - for example, across your roof rack or under the bullbar - may be an issue because they are not approved in the current standards.
Before spending a lot of money on purchasing a long LED bar, the Department of Transport suggests writing to the Vehicle Safety and Standards Section describing the light bar to be fitted and including a photo of the vehicle and brochure or similar detailed information for the light bar. Contact details are provided at the end of IB-123A.