Do Tail Lights Need a Relay?
Uncategorized,  Auto Parts,  Cars

Do Tail Lights Need a Relay?

Taillights are an essential part of your vehicle, and, to keep you obeying the law, you must ensure that they are always working properly. Tail lights for cars can be a very complex system when you are first exposed to it, but rest assured, the makeup and function of the parts in a taillight is quite simple.

Do the tail lights on your vehicle need a relay? The vast majority of the cars on the market need a relay. A relay is needed for your own convenience, in that it makes it easier to automate the process of turning on your tail lights instead of having to do it manually.

The tail lights of your car allow people to easily see you at all times. Tail lights at night ensure that other people can see you more easily and hopefully avoid the dark, rear-end, or your vehicle. More crucial information is provided in the rest of this article that improves your understanding of tail lights and why they need a relay in order to improve your safety while on the road. 

Why You Need a Relay

Tail light relays are a vital part of any car on the road. Relays take out a manual aspect, or possibility for human error, in an electrical process. Tail light relays are linked to the headlight system of your car. Most modern cars have an automated system that turns headlights on and off in certain situations such as:

  • Nighttime
  • Rainy or stormy weather
  • Foggy 
  • Driving through a dimly lit parking garage
  • Driving through a dimly lit tunnel

In these situations, you would want your headlights on so that you can easily see where you are going. You would also want other people to be able to see you. Tail light relays offer an bit of automation that makes your life easier and safer. 

That's why it important to make sure your tail lights are working, not just when you press the brake pedal, but when it is dark so other car can clearly see you. 

Tail lights, with a relay system, turn on when your headlights are turned on, giving you the maximum amount of visibility for yourself and for other people around you. 

Which, as any driver could attest to, is what you want when being out on the road. You want to be as easily seen by other drivers as possible in order to not get into a crash.

Human Error Reduction

If you were to turn on your headlights and tail lights by pressing a button, lever, or switch, it would add a human error factor. You could easily forget to turn them on because:

  • You forget to activate them 
  • You think they are on, but they are not
  • You press the wrong button

You cannot easily see the rear of your car without getting out of your vehicle, which makes knowing, with absolute certainty, whether or not your tail lights are on quite impossible. 

A relay helps take the human error possibility out of the situation entirely. When you turn on your headlights, you typically do it because it is hard for you to see.

Using that logic, it may be hard for other people to see as well. You would want to make yourself as visible as possible in order to mitigate, as much as possible, the chances of someone else not being able to see you. 


Tail Light Problems

Make sure to check your tail lights once in a while with the help of another person to ensure accuracy. You might also be able to back up against a wall or garage and check how the tail lights are operating when you press on the brake and turn on the lights. 

If you encounter a problem with your tail light you can replace it of trouble shoot the relay as seen in this video.

The Legality of Tail lights

Tail lights are so important that they are mandated by multiple laws in the United States. The specifics of the laws differ from state to state, but federally, tail lights on vehicles are required.

Specifically, you must have at least two tail lights active when your headlights are on when operating a vehicle. 

“Florida Statute 316.221 uses the term “tail lamps” rather than “tail lights and requires that every vehicle have at least two “tail lamps” on the rear. Case law sometimes uses the term “tail lights.” It seems clear that these are two red lights in the rear of the vehicle that remain lit when the vehicle’s lights are on.”

Source: Christopher R. White 

When looking at this law, it says when your headlights are on, you must have your tail lights active as well. This is the perfect situation where a relay device would be applicable.

The relay helps drivers become more visible to pedestrians and drivers who are around them.  They help the driver obey the law so as not to have to go through the hassle of paying a ticket.

Tail Light Statistics

For something like a tail light to be mandatory by law, you would think that there was solid evidence that tail lights would reduce rear-end car crashes. As statistics show, since the implementation of the third brake light during the late 1980s, rear-end car collisions still account for roughly 40% of all road collisions in the United States.

President Ronald Reagan hoped that the added high mounted tail light would reduce the amount of rear-end collisions that occurred in the United States. In theory, it made sense to mandate the third tail light. However, the contrary would seem to be the truth.

“Rear-end injury accidents also increased, from 24.9 percent of all crashes to 28.7 percent, according to the NHTSA. Likewise, rear-end property damage-only collisions increased from 23.5 to 29 percent, and the percentage of rear-end accidents jumped from 23.8 to 28.8 percent.”

Source: Mary Chapman at the Chicago Tribune

These statistics may lead you to think that the third tail light does not matter and actually could cause more accidents. These numbers are in percentages, which tell only of the percent of car accidents, not the total.

The total number of rear-end collisions has steadily gone down over the years since the implementation of the third real tail light.

Tail Light Tints

As you are driving down the road, you may see some cars that have tints on their tail lights. Why would someone want to tint their taillights when all they do is help people see you and protect you?

The answer is quite irrational to the average person. People, typically younger guys and car enthusiasts want their cars to stand out from others on the road. The tint on the cars makes you stand out from other cars on the road and draws attention to you more so than if you had no tints on your tail lights.

Those who use the tail light tints desire to make their car look more like a sports car or add another level of customization that truly makes their car their own. They can also use the tints to identify themselves with a certain cultural group. Some might tint their lights yellow, green, or blue to align themselves with certain groups. 

The added level of customization comes with some consequences. Not only does it potentially reduce your visibility to other drivers, but it could be illegal in your area to use tail lights tints. 

The tinted tail lights make it harder to see your bright red lights at night since the tint reduces their illumination factor. The reduced illumination factor makes it harder for people to see the rear of your car in times where light visibility is reduced. 

This is also why taillight tints are illegal in certain states. The exact laws and level of tint vary from state to state, which makes it hard when you are traveling between states and your car has taillight tints. 

Will it be worth it to sacrifice the added safety benefits that come with having fully illuminated tail lights on a relay to make sure that they are always on and bright or reduce the illumination for the sake of customization? The choice ultimately falls in the hands of the car’s owner.