SIKESTON -- The message is simple: when weather conditions are bad, turn on your headlights.
A new state law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bob Holden went into effect Aug. 28. It mandates drivers use their headlights any time the weather conditions require usage of the windshield wipers to increase visibility among drivers.
"What we've changed is the definition of when lights are required to be on," said Lt. Tim Hull, Missouri State Highway Patrol assistant director for public information and education in Jefferson City.
The original law stated headlights are required at any time from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise and at any other time when there is not enough light "to render clearly visible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead."
Hull pointed out some vehicles already come equipped with daytime running lights when a motorist starts their car or puts it in gear.
"But there are still those folks out there who don't turn their headlights on when they should," Hull said. Lt. Jim McNiell, commander of the patrol's Troop E Service Center in Sikeston, said the new law is a common sense issue.
"When weather starts changing, you should you have your headlights on, regardless if you're using your windshield wipers," McNiell said.
McNiell pointed out driving without the use of headlights diminishes the ability of person driving during rainy and foggy conditions.
"It's a good law," McNiell said. "It's not only safe for the motoring public, but it's safe for you and your family traveling down the road."
While there are no known statistics about whether headlight usage decreases accidents, the patrol does know inattention leads to a lot of accidents the patrol works, McNiell said. And a lot of those accidents are due to motorists not looking for oncoming vehicles -- or because they can't see the vehicles coming, he said.
According to the statute, if issued a summons, a $10-fine will apply, and it's an infraction, Hull said.
However since many members of the public are not aware of the new law, violators will more than likely be warned for a while, McNiell said. This will help make people aware there is a new law out there and to obey it, he said.
"After that, we'll be taking enforcement action to make people aware of the law," McNiell said.
Although motorists may be fined if they violate the new law, State Farm Insurance Agent Sharon Bryant said she doesn't foresee the new law affecting car insurance rates in a negative way.
However, Bryant thinks the law can help motorists be more visible and improve their visibility, she said. "And anytime you do something to prevent losses, it helps rates," Bryant said.
Laws such as this are enacted to promote safety on the highways for the motoring public, noted Col. Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the patrol.
Stottlemyre also reminded motorists it's always a good idea to slow down when these same weather conditions exist, and to always buckle their seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle all the time.
Hull said public service radio announcements are being made to help inform the public about the new law. Hull said: "It is always better to be seen than to be in a traffic crash."