Vehicle lighting is helpful during the winter months, so we’d like to focus on snowmobiles in particular right now. We frequently get customers needing additional lighting for their snowmobiles only after they’ve been in a hazardous situation that causes them to realize stock equipment’s shortcomings. Michigan only requires a headlight and taillight on snowmobiles, and that works fine if you’re staying around a well-lit area. However, as soon as you venture off the beaten path, it’s very likely that your stock equipment is insufficient. Though we’re focusing on snowmobiles, we will point out that most of the same principles apply to other off-road vehicles such as quads, and even to bicycles. Regardless of what you’re using to get around, it’s still winter, and we’ve got a bit to go before the sun doesn’t set so quickly. Let us talk you through some considerations about your snowmobile lighting so that you don’t end up encountering the pitfalls we’ve seen others hit.
Does the headlight on your snowmobile have a wide or narrow beam? Narrow beams are great if you’re sticking to city streets, Tip Up Town, or anywhere else where there’s ample ambient lighting. However, once you get on a rural road or out into the wilderness, you need a wide beam to give yourself more peripheral vision. This is especially important if you plan on moving any faster than a crawl, moving at significant speed with poorly lit peripheral vision is a known cause of accidents. Even if you’ve got a headlight with a wide beam, is it bright enough? The further out you can see, the faster you can react to what’s ahead of you.
However, it’s important not only that you see, but be seen. Lack of illumination is another known cause of snowmobile accidents, and there are a number of ways to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you. Many snowmobiles require the engine to be on for their lights to be on. So if you run out of gas, stall, or even just want to use your legs and enjoy the wilderness for a minute, your snowmobile has now become an obstacle in the dark for other snowmobilers. The first solution we’d recommending is rigging your lights to a separate switch so that they don’t require the engine to be running. In addition leaving your lights on to prevent collisions, many of our customers appreciate the ability to use their headlights for area illumination without wasting their gas.
Going beyond your headlights and taillights is one further option to increase your visibility. Specifically, with running lights, it’s important to remember that you headlights can’t have colored lens caps per Michigan law, but everything else is fair game to use colors. Luckily vehicle lighting has been well studied over the years, so we only need to look to cars, planes, and other vehicles where lighting has been standardized to understand the best options. Our recommendation would be to rig up your snowmobile exactly like a tractor trailer. Specifically, a pair or panel of white headlights, a pair or panel of red taillights, and pairs or panels of amber marker lights along the sides. Static lights, especially in pairs, clusters, or bars, are the easiest for the human eye to track, which is why most vehicles primarily or exclusively use static lighting.
Reflective panels are another good addition to catch the eye of other snowmobilers, and will work even if you’ve opted to go to bed with your lights off. We recommend putting them on every side of your vehicle, and its running boards. In the same vein, reflective clothing is also a good idea, if you’re out in an area where another snowmobiler wouldn’t expect a human obstacle. Yet one more option to be certain you’re seen by others is the addition of a white blinking light. While blinking lights are not tracked as easily as static lights, they do draw attention more quickly than static lights. As safety is the priority here, it’s important that the blinking light be bright enough to draw attention, but not so bright that it whites out you and the surrounding area.
We hope you learned something from us this month, and that’ll help you stay safe and have fun out in Michigan’s winter wonderland. As always, if you have any questions, you’re welcome to contact us. You can even bring your vehicle into the shop and we’ll give you some more specifics about how we’d rig it up. We hope you’re having a blast out there, and look forward to hearing all your stories the next time you’re in the shop. Spring is coming, so make the most out of the remaining time you’ve got for winter sports!