Johannesburg - The increase of additional supplementary lighting on vehicles in South Africa has brought into focus the legal implications of drivers having these lights installed.

Dewald Ranft, Chairman of the Motor Industry Workshop Association (MIWA), says vehicle owners and installers are not clear on what is legally acceptable.

“There is much debate in the industry around this issue. With the South African landscape being what it is there are still many areas that require additional lighting when travelling at night. Vehicle owners are looking for a solution that is within legal requirements,” he says.

Mic van Zyl, Director of Ironman 4x4 Africa, agrees, adding that many modern vehicles have very poor lighting. “It is a real issue. We surmise that the lighting is poor in order to prevent the blinding of drivers of oncoming vehicles. In our country, however, we have wild animals, especially antelope, that are a constant and deadly danger to anybody travelling on rural roads at night. Add to this the abundance of livestock including cattle, goats and donkeys that are left unattended to roam in these rural areas. There is a definite need for bright lights to assist the drivers to spot potential animals next to the road and prevent potential animal strikes,” he says.

Van Zyl says it has been a long-standing practice to fit additional spot lights to enhance inefficient standard lights on vehicles.

“With the advent of LED as a light source for spot lights, bar lights have become a popular alternative to traditional round spot lights. They are very suitable to mount across the top of a bull bar or across the top of a windscreen,” he says.

However, spot lights are exceptionally bright and will certainly blind oncoming traffic which is very dangerous.

“To this end it is important that the spot lights are used responsibly,” he says. “They should always be wired in such a way that they can be disabled totally by their own switch as well as switched on and off by the vehicle’s high beam switch.”

He says road traffic regulations have not kept up with new lighting technology and as such, it would be illegal to use any lighting on a road vehicle that does not comply with the Road Act, which states:

- Only an even number of lights may be fitted to the front of a vehicle

- White head lights including spot lights may not exceed six lights in total

- No light may be fitted across the vertical median of the vehicle

- No light may be fitted higher than the leading edge of the bonnet

- No lights may be fitted on the roof of the vehicle

Ranft points out that LED light bars unfortunately break many of these rules due to their design, despite the fact that in certain off-road instances, where the grass is long, for example, it is best to have the light source mounted high up on the vehicle.

He says that Ironman 4x4 Africa has been in touch with the authorities regarding the possible amendment of road laws to accommodate these lights.

In the meantime, vehicle owners need to be aware that it is illegal to fit a single bar light to the front of their vehicle, explains Ranft. “Until there has been a change in regulations around this issue we advise vehicle owners to be cautious about adding any additional lighting to their vehicles,” he concludes.

Drive360