Drivers in EU may be forced to use headlights in daytime

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All drivers in Europe may have to keep headlights on in daytime, prompting a fierce debate on whether safety gains outweigh the cost to the environment.

The European Commission says car lights in daytime could reduce deaths by 3 to 5 per cent, equivalent to 1,200 to 2,000 fatalities a year across the EU. But environmental campaigners say the extra carbon dioxide emissions from dipped headlights contribute to global warming. They say car makers should fit low-energy lights to offset the effect.

Fourteen of the EU's 25 countries already have rules on the use of daytime lights, but they vary. Drivers on Italian motorways and roads outside towns must use their lights; in Poland all drivers must do so but only between October and February.

Now the European Commission is consulting on whether to legislate to harmonise the rules. It says daytime use of lights would increases fuel consumption and carbon emissions by up to 1.5 per cent. But low-energy daytime running lights would reduce this to 0.3 per cent.

Katherine Mill, for Greenpeace, said: "Any proposal that would have an impact by increasing CO2 emissions should be matched by one to counteract that." Dudley Curtis, spokes-man for the European Federation for Transport and Environment, added: "Keeping car lights on during the day will save lives. There's no reason why fuel-efficiency should take a big hit."

Many motorcyclists already use headlights at all times and they fear they would no longer stand out in traffic, compromising their safety.