Aim to get the alignment of your headlights right

Importance of headlight aim

After 20 years of full-time traffic policing, you accumulate many memories.

I was reminded of one on the weekend when a small pickup truck passed me and I could see the bright patch from the right low beam headlight shining on the pavement about three meters in front of the vehicle.

The memory concerns a driver who thought headlight aim was unimportant.

I stopped that driver in much the same circumstances and issued a repair order for his vehicle. He brought the order back to the detachment showing the repair was carried out, but it was inside a card offering to buy me coffee so I could sit down, relax and hopefully not take the issue so seriously.

According to lighting expert Daniel Stern, lamp aim is by far the main thing that determines how well you can or can't see at night.

“It’s even more important than the output and beam pattern of the headlamps themselves,” he says.

If you don't worry about it, your vehicle may never have its headlights properly aimed. Canada's Motor Vehicle Safety Act does not require vehicle manufacturers to aim them before delivery to a customer. If you are purchasing a new vehicle, ask the dealer if the pre-delivery inspection includes checking if the headlight aim is accurate.

If your headlight beams are set too low, your ability to see at a distance is reduced. Set them too high and you can see further down the road but illumination of the pavement for vehicle guidance is affected.

Misaligned headlights can prevent oncoming drivers from seeing properly, possibly with severe consequences.

Oddly enough, a driver with misaligned headlights is more susceptible to glare from oncoming vehicles. The difference between light levels of oncoming lamps and the visual task area while driving at night is smaller when your headlights are properly aimed than when they are not. Your eyes see the latter situation as one with more glare.

If you are going to have a repair or body shop adjust your headlights, make sure it will uses an optical beam-aiming instrument. Here's an example of instructions for using a headlight-aiming instrument.

Doing it yourself is possible, but definitely not the best choice. There are detailed headlight aiming instructions about how to do the job on Daniel Stern's site. Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time to accomplish this.

Accuracy in adjustment is critical. If your headlights are improperly aimed by just half a degree, the amount of usable light projected even 23 metres (75 feet) ahead could be compromised and potentially useless.

So, sorry sir, I still think headlight aim is something to be taken seriously.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Checking brakes on all trucks is important

The brake check

The sign says "Trucks, Stop Here, Check Brakes, Steep Hill Ahead."

Ask almost anyone and they would likely tell you the sign only applies to heavy commercial trucks equipped with air brakes. But that is not the case . The sign applies to all trucks with a licensed gross vehicle weight (GVW) of more than 5,500 kilograms, regardless of the type of brake system. It could include everything from a truck tractor to a pickup pulling an RV.

Checking brakes is part of the basic training for all commercial drivers. ICBC's Driving Commercial Vehicles manual has a section called Pre-Hill Inspections that starts on page 228.

Basic training for light vehicle drivers also mentions a pre-trip inspection in chapter 2 of ICBC's Learn to Drive Smart manual, beginning on page 24. It simply mentions checking brake fluid level and parking brake adjustment.

The Towing a Recreational Trailer manual goes into a bit more detail under the pre-trip inspection procedure, starting on page 13.

Advice in the form of advisory signs posted at brake check sites tells drivers of vehicles equipped with hydraulic brake systems they must check pedal pressure and brake assist to make sure there are no fluid leaks and that the brake drums are not overheated.

Pedal pressure is tested by applying the brakes and holding them applied. The pedal must not be spongy or slowly depress.

To check brake assist, turn the engine off, pump the brake pedal to deplete the assist, hold the pedal down and start the engine again. If assist is working properly, you will feel the pedal rise slightly.

Are you towing a trailer equipped with brakes? You will find a sign that tells you what to check at the pullout.

Disconnect the vacuum lines, pull the pin on the electric switch or the lever on the surge brake to activate the breakaway brake. Try to drive ahead and the trailer wheels should lock.

In addition to checking for hydraulic fluid leaks, it is wise to check fluid levels in the master cylinder as well. The fluid should be a clear straw colour and at or above the minimum level mark. If there is no mark indicated, then no less than 13 mm from the top of the reservoir.

Failing to stop and check brakes is a violation of Section 125 of the Motor Vehicle Act and disobey a traffic control device could result in the driver being issued a traffic ticket with a fine of $121 and two penalty points.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Rules for cyclists when riding on the road with others cyclists

Riding bicycles side by side

Bill 23 - 2023 has received first reading in the B.C. Legislative Assembly.

The bill is an attempt to bring a bit more order into the interactions between drivers of motor vehicles and the operators of various types of alternative transportation, including bicycles. It does not change the current prohibition on riding bicycles side by side.

I've been asked to comment on two situations, a left turn at traffic lights that resulted in an interaction with police and another where a cautious driver was unable to pass a group of cyclists riding two abreast for a considerable distance.

The cyclist was stopped by an officer who pulled him over for riding beside another cyclist while he was stopped at a red light in a left turn lane waiting to turn onto a bike lane. Prior to the red light they were riding single file.

After making a proper approach, they came to a stop to wait for the red light. The three riders moved to take up less room in the left turn lane and two could be considered side by side as they waited for the green light.

The officer warned him for riding side by side.

A group of cyclists in the Lower Mainland insisted on riding side by side for 60 kilometres, 30 kilometres of which involved one driver's route home. She is unable to pass safely due to a double solid yellow line and the cyclist did not follow the slow driving rules.

She related the incident, where an impatient driver behind her tried to pass in the face of oncoming traffic. The driver was unable to complete the pass safely and pushed his way into the middle of the cyclists to avoid a head-on collision.

The Motor Vehicle Act says that a cyclist "must not ride abreast of another person operating a cycle on the roadway." Remember, the "roadway" is the part of a highway designed for vehicular traffic and does not include the shoulder.

Some designated-use lanes (bicycle lanes or mixed-use trails) exclude vehicular traffic as well.

So, if one cyclist is riding on the roadway, another may not ride on either side of them. The only opportunity to ride two abreast is when both cyclists have room to do so using the shoulder or a bicycle lane and it is not otherwise regulated by a municipal bylaw.

This rule would not prohibit one cyclist passing another, subject to following the rules that govern making a pass.

I would also observe that the left turn situation described could be looked at as one rider passing another that was suspended in time by the red light. If they did not continue riding side by side after the green light, no enforcement would be necessary.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

The rules for approaching lane closures

The key to safe merging

There is probably nowhere that the unofficial rules of the road are "enforced" by other drivers like that of the lane closure line up.

You know, it’s the long line of traffic that forms on one side of the highway after drivers pass the “lane closed ahead” advisory signs.

When a driver dares to drive by waiting traffic using the empty lane, I've seen people open their doors or swerve partially into that lane to let other drivers know they are supposed to be in the line up, not using the empty lane to get ahead.

These "enforcement" actions are illegal. One must not open a door when it is unsafe to do so or change lanes when doing so would affect other traffic.

If traffic is light and no line has formed, merging early is perfectly acceptable. Due to the lower volume, a backup will not form to cause delay.

When traffic is heavier than what can be accommodated by a single lane, continue with caution using both lanes and at the end merge like the teeth in a zipper before proceeding through the zone single file.

A zipper merge alleviates the risks of queue jumping and road rage by creating a uniform system of merging that uses the full capacity of the road and increases the fairness of merging under conditions that are high stress for many drivers.

Other benefits include a reduction in speed differences between lanes and a reduction in the overall length of traffic backup by as much as 40 percent.

These practices are acceptable because the black on orange signs used in these situations are advisory. A driver can choose to take the advice (or not) as their experience, traffic and road conditions dictate in the circumstances.

Flag persons, cones, barricades and the like are traffic control devices that must be obeyed. Once you reach them at the point where the lane is closed, it is an offence to fail to follow their requirements. Then you must move over as indicated, but not before.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Behind the Wheel articles

About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

To comment, please email

To learn more, visit DriveSmartBC

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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