Lights Out for Safety? I Think Not!
August 8, 2012 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Why are my neighbors turning off their car's headlights before they pull into their driveways?

I have noticed at night, while walking my dog, that several of my neighbors do something, that I consider rather odd, while driving their cars.

They will be driving home from somewhere, and since it is at night they have their car's headlights on. But as they are about to turn into their driveways they will suddenly turn the headlights off and pull into the driveway in relative darkness!

I have seen more than one neighbor in the neighborhood do this, so it is not just one odd family, and in the instances that I have seen them do this their driveways are not that well lit, so it would seem to me that they are taking a risk in hitting any person or animal that might be in the driveway that they won't be able to see.

So, my question is, why would someone do this? They can't be teaching people this practice in Driver's Education classes, could they? I live in Western Massachusetts if that makes any difference.

If anyone will know, the Hive will know. Thanks!
posted by Hanuman1960 to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total)
To avoid shining their headlights into their house or neighboring house, where it is likely to wake/disturb people.
posted by vacapinta at 6:50 AM on August 8, 2012 [54 favorites]

A couple of ideas:
a) They don't have automatic headlights (or aren't used to them) and are in the habit of turning them off early so they don't forget and run the battery down.
b) They want to avoid bothering someone inside their house with their headlights.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do this but only because I'm backing into the driveway (I never ever park nose in if I can help it). If I don't, my neighbors get blinded by my headlights if they happen to be enjoying dinner at the table (their dining room is at the front of the house).

I expect they don't want to flash their lights at the house. And / or forget to turn them off (this is the first time I've owned a car with auto-shut off lights)
posted by tilde at 6:51 AM on August 8, 2012

Perhaps they don't want to shine bright headlights into their homes through the front windows -- do they have small kids who might be asleep at that hour?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:52 AM on August 8, 2012

OMG babies. If you wake a sleeping baby by shining headlights into their room, whoever put them to bed gets to kick you in the face.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:58 AM on August 8, 2012 [35 favorites]

We do this to avoid shining headlights into bedroom windows at night. It's kind pretty common thing in my neighborhood.
posted by Sweetmag at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2012

Oh, another possibility just occurred to me from out of the mists of my own adolescence: If it is really late, it may be teenagers coming home after curfew and not wanting to wake the parents.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

All of these responses seem plausible, except, that it's not that late at night (9:30-10PM) and I know for a fact that the neighbors in question don't have little kids.

It just seems risky to me, especially in one neighbor's case since they have a few cats that are always out at night in their yard. They're not going to see Fluffy until it's too late...
posted by Hanuman1960 at 7:07 AM on August 8, 2012

It could just be a habit - maybe originally due to not wanting to wake somebody at a previous residence. Once that muscle memory is set to flip off the lights as you turn in, it takes quite a bit of conscious effort to break the habit.
posted by COD at 7:09 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

When they turn, especially when their front wheels hit the driveway, their lights might pass across a bunch of houses in addition their own. Even if it wouldn't be waking anyone up, it still sucks to get blinded by headlights shining through the window. Because of the way my house lines up with one of my neighbors I really wish they'd cut out their headlights before they turned into their driveway. So, yeah, they're just being considerate.
posted by VTX at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah it doesn't matter if anyone's actually asleep, some people just feel self-conscious about announcing their sudden presence to three households' worth of people.
posted by hermitosis at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's probably to avoid the lights flashing up at the neighbor's houses during the turn itself.

Could also be to avoid the lights shining back in their face from the house up close which can be a bit blinding. So actually they might be able to see better with the lights off than on.
posted by fleacircus at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2012

It just seems risky to me

It is, and you're right - there's no inconvenience worth smacking into a beloved family pet or marginally tolerated family member with a one-ton hunk of rolling steel. The screaming baby (and apparently a kick in the face) IS a mere inconvenience compared to the squishing.

But people don't always balance risks and rewards sensibly. Wrinkled clothes are not worse then going head-first through the windshield but people still use that as an excuse to not wear their seatbelt.
posted by phearlez at 7:50 AM on August 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

I do this to stop the dog from barking and then waking the entire house up.
posted by randomination at 7:53 AM on August 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

They do this to be good neighbors. It's not just their own windows that get headlighted when they turn into their driveway.
posted by elizardbits at 8:12 AM on August 8, 2012

I do this. it's a habit, probably born from both not-waking-babies and not-waking-parents. Risky? I can see the parking space before I pull in. I mean, if someone sprinted in front of me in the 3-5 seconds from when pull in to the driveway and come to a full stop I'd hit them regardless of my headlight status. Plate/beans.
posted by anti social order at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2012 [8 favorites]

We're like radomination. We do it to avoid dog woofing. The good news is that the ambient light from the street, our neighbors lights and our porch light are more than sufficient to see without headlights.
posted by Leezie at 8:48 AM on August 8, 2012

I've done this when I lived in a house with bright white garage doors, I found the headlights reflecting off of the doors where blinding and I'd actually be able to see less than if I turned the lights off as I'd loose my night vision and have bright after images burned in my eyes. It was easier and safer to keep my night vision and see by the street & house lights.
posted by wwax at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2012

It just seems risky to me

In Garp it was because Garp's children were exhilarated by the feeling of swooping into the driveway in total darkness.

It didn't work out well.
posted by Mapes at 11:35 AM on August 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I do it just because it's a crazy "hurry" habit I have. I also unbuckle my seatbelt as I pull in the driveway. I realize it takes less than a second to do these things after turning off the car, but *shrug*. My brain works funny.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:36 AM on August 8, 2012

there's an intermediate setting-- the so-called Parking Lights. When I am pulling in or out of a parking space, with pedestrians or people in other cars, I use the Parking Lights to define my car, and then turn on my headlights when I'm not directly facing the peds.
posted by ohshenandoah at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fluffy the cat probably has a good idea of what cars do, being from the neighborhood and all, and in this case Fluffy's not being paralyzed by the blinding headlight, and consequently can use his nighttime vision aided by ambient neighborhood lighting to avoid large, noisy objects, just like he always does. Sometimes you gotta put the onus of self-preservation onto the animal.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:22 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pointed beams of light are annoying to people in multiple houses. Dogs bark. There's enough ambient light to see if anything is in the driveway.

Most living creatures that might be hanging out in the driveway after dark are going to move if a car is coming, it's not where you put the infant down for a nap unsupervised.
posted by desuetude at 6:12 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The light could be bouncing off a garage door or fence and hitting the windshield. I park with my bumper almost touching my garage door. If my lights are on all I see is the dust on my windshield for the last three or four feet.
posted by gally99 at 9:41 PM on August 8, 2012

I do this since my car is parked in my building's lot and is well lit. As I pull in, I turn my headlights off so only my day time running lights are on. I do it as a courtesy to the 6 units who otherwise would get my headlights aimed into their bedrooms. I'm sure none of them have ever noticed but I know the day I leave and some moron with an SUV and aftermarket lights gets my parking spot, they'll realize that the previous guy (me) was really nice.

(There are plenty of stray cats around, most of them for several years. Haven't seen one roadkill cat yet. They're pretty smart.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2012

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