15 Seconds to Safety: Are Your Tail Lights On?

Are your tail lights on?
One of the most common mistakes drivers are making these dark, wintry days is failing to activate their tail lights.

If you’re ever trailing one of these phantom cars, either during a cloudy day or even at night, chances are there are one or more misconceptions at play.


Tail lights are like daytime running lights: they are always on. Not true. They turn on with the headlights.

A lit up dashboard means all lights are on. Not always true. Some newer vehicles’ dashboards are constantly backlit.

It’s daytime… so, tail lights aren’t needed. In reality, tail lights are an important part of being seen from behind, especially in winter when days are shorter and snow, rain, fog, and all-around dreariness are common 24 hours a day.

A flick of a switch can mean the difference between a collision and getting home safely. Watch this quick video to make sure you know your lights.

And while you’re at it, check out the other videos in the 15 Seconds to Safety Shift Into Winter series:

> How to Pack Your Vehicle Emergency Kit in 15 Seconds

> How to Measure Tread Depth in 15 Seconds


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Page 1 of 27 comments on “15 Seconds to Safety: Are Your Tail Lights On?”

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  1. It behooves me the high number of people with newer cars are unaware that the tail lights on their car are not illuminated UNLESS the headlights are ON. Tail lights do NOT illuminate if only running or “parking” lights are on. Driving in the dark using only running lights instead of headlights is very hazardous. This is a National hazard, and should be broadcast on TV to remind (teach) people that cars now have to have headlights turned on for tail lights to be illuminated. It also amazes me that cars driving in the dark with only parking lights and non illuminated tail lights are either unnoticed or simply ignored by patrol car police forces.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kurt. We agree with you and wanted to let you know that in September 2021, the federal government implemented new legislation requiring all new vehicles to have a fully automated lighting system for front and rear lights. Hurray! Safe travels.

  2. Here’s a simple thing that people should be willing to hear is the cold hard truth how about we choose not to be lazy we learn the car before we buy it and all we Gotta do is flip one switch and all the lights go on the old fashion way. how come when you get in your car at night time you don’t think of turning on your lights? Are you serious? it seems like the government has to make laws because were clearly not able to take care of ourselves. We’re showing every day we can’t take care of ourselves. Apparently we can’t even flip a light switch in a car on so that way the headlights and taillights turn completely on. Wow I can’t believe that’s such hard work. I say all this sarcastically!

  3. Why don’t car manufacturers change the settings so that tail lights automatically come on as soon as any front lights are switched on. And also only let dashboard lights up when exterior lights are on? Surely this would be a simple adjustment & would obviate human error?

    • Good morning Jane,

      In fact, the federal Ministry of Transportation has just passed legislation requiring all new vehicles manufactured in 2022 and beyond, to have fully functioning lighting systems which automatically turn on headlights and taillights. 🙂

  4. I have a jeep with four tail lights two on each side but if one of the tail lights goes out but break lights still working can I be pull over by a cop still

    • Hi there James. Thanks for your comment. We are unable to provide comment on anything that could become a legal issue. Local authorities or the BC RCMP are entitled to pull over or ticket a vehicle should they observe any issues with the working order of that vehicle. Hope that this helps.

  5. “Using your vehicle lights to see and be seen

    From: Transport Canada

    Vehicles driven in the dark without lights, or “phantom vehicles,” are a serious safety risk. Some drivers think a lit-up dashboard means their lights are on, which may not be true. It’s also important to use proper lighting in bad weather.

    Transport Canada is introducing a new lighting standard to help vehicles and drivers see, and be seen.
    New lighting standard

    As of September 2021 the Canadian Vehicle Lighting Regulation will require that all new vehicles sold in Canada have one of the following:

    tail lights that come on automatically with daytime running lights
    headlights, tail lights, and side marker lights that turn on automatically in the dark
    a dashboard that stays dark to alert the driver to turn on the lights

    This standard will apply to all new vehicles (cars, trucks, SUVs, 3-wheeled vehicles, motorcycles and heavy trucks).
    Tips for driving with proper vehicle lights

    Don’t put yourself and others at risk. Turn your headlights on when driving in the dark or in bad weather.

    You need to know:

    Automatic headlights only work if you set them on automatic
    A bright dashboard doesn’t always mean that your headlights and tail lights are on
    Daytime running lights don’t give you enough light to drive safely in the dark or in bad weather

    Understanding your vehicle’s light symbols…” see https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/services/road/safety-standards-vehicles-tires-child-car-seats/using-vehicle-lights.html

  6. I drive a newer truck for work and I discovered (after driving to a site at night) that my taillights were NOT on, my lights were set to “automatic”. For some vehicles you still need to take the extra step and turn them on! Fortunately the person driving behind me was also heading to the same site and knew I was there. Now I manually turn my lights on everytime, regardless of weather or daylight.

    • Great comment Monique – thanks for sharing.

      We recommend that drivers get into the habit of ALWAYS turning their headlights and taillights on, as part of preparing to drive.

  7. You are correct about newer cars always having a backlit dash. It took me a long time to get the hang of not thinking my lights were on in my new Honda. The dash lights up like a Christmas tree whereas my last car only did when you turned on the lights.

  8. Thanks for taking this on. I have been on a mission for years now to get the message out but I am one person and some days I feel as though I am the only person who notices. A coordinated, multi jurisdictional multi language campaign can not happen soon enough!

    In the last two years, I have emailed ICBC – they replied it was the responsibility of the police. I also emailed Drive Smart BC – They replied that they had blogged about the issue in the past. I called a couple radio station traffic lines begging them to include a blurb about ensuring lights are fully on but was told that they didn’t have time to fit in because of sponsor and advertising commitments.

    Again, as on most days, my 35 km commute between Surrey and North Vancouver included at least 5 people without lights on each way and tonight going West, in the driving rain, there was an old pickup truck completely loaded down with no lights and travelling under the speed limit – all this as we passed several rear end accidents that had happened East bound. This is just Highway 1! I can’t imagine how many other routes, maybe less well lit, that are experiencing an uptick in accidents because of drivers who are not seen and can not see clearly.

    Thanks in advance for continuing to spread the message.

    • It is a legitimate safety concern to be sure Caz. Thanks for your message. We hope that others share this content and conversations and awareness around this issue help!

  9. I almost hit a very, very expensive car a few years ago on the Coquihallaa in fog and heavy snow – a silver car – they did not have tail lights on and all of a sudden there they were. I missed then by inches.

    I wish car manufacturers would install the same electronics that activate daytime running lights to not only include taillights but side marker lights.

    You see cars all the time, they feel if they can see to drive, others can see them! Not so. Rain, fog, dusk and other low light occurrences.

  10. In reality, tail lights are an important part of being seen from behind, especially in winter when days are shorter and snow, rain, fog, and all-around dreariness are common 24 hours a day. Where such information?

  11. Ministry of Transportation:
    Would it not be a great idea to join the rest of the world to ALWAYS have tail lights on. Would save life and improve transportation.