Troopers start enforcing state's headlight law for rainy days

Thursday, December 2, 2004

The next time it rains, motorists need to remember when they turn on their windshield wipers, they should also turn on their headlights.

The Missouri Legislature made that a law which went into effect Aug. 28. But the Missouri State Highway Patrol gave Missouri motorists a grace period, which ended Wednesday. Now, if a highway patrol trooper sees a vehicle with windshield wipers running, but no headlights, he can stop that driver and issue a ticket.

The highway patrol superintendent had asked that troopers use the time between Aug. 28 and Dec. 1 to educate the public about the new law, said Sgt. Larry Plunkett, public information officer for the patrol's Troop E based in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Using headlights on overcast, rainy days makes cars more visible to other drivers and reduces the number of accidents, Plunkett said. It can also become a financial consideration, he said. If a driver is involved in an accident and didn't have headlights on when he should have, it can become a consideration for insurance settlements.

Local police departments say they will follow the patrol's lead and begin writing tickets, but not immediately.

"We're getting ready to have an ordinance," said Sgt. Rick Schmidt of the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

If one is not presented at Monday's city council meeting, Schmidt said, an ordinance mirroring state law will be presented at the next one. Schmidt said he expects the ordinance to be in place before the first of the new year.

City officers can write tickets now if they see a motorist driving in the rain without headlights. But as a violation of state law rather than city ordinance, the ticket will have to be handled at the county courthouse. Having a local ordinance will keep the infraction local.

"We like to keep city charges in the Cape city court," Schmidt said.

The Jackson city attorney is currently reviewing the new law, said police Lt. Chris Mouser. A similar proposal will be presented to the Jackson Board of Aldermen, but Mouser said he did not know when that would happen. Mouser suggests motorists turn on their lights when they flip on their windshield wipers because it's a good idea.

"The law was designed for that reason," he said. "When it's raining, it's fairly dark and if your wipers are on your headlights ought to be on anyway for your safety."

Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said the penalty for the new law is not a stiff one, only $10 for each infraction and no court costs.

For some motorists, it will not be difficult to remember to turn on their lights. Their vehicles will remember for them. Since 2001, all General Motors vehicles have automatic daytime running lights that come on when the engine is turned on. Some Ford and Toyota products also have automatic running lights.

Chrysler vehicles don't have automatic running lights, but do have an automatic switch that activates the lights at a given level of darkness. A salesman from the local Honda dealership said Honda products don't have running lights, but some models have a switch that will automatically turn the headlights off a few seconds after the engine is turned off. The lights will come back on when the key is put back in the ignition and the motor turned on again. A Honda driver could turn the lights on when starting the car for the first time during the day and leave them on to get the same result as running lights.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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