Lights on for Calgary police cars after decades with no automatic headlights

Calgary police have started using daytime running lights on every patrol vehicle. The policy change means officers will no longer be able to stealthily drive with their lights off at night behind suspects, but only for the next few months.

Eventually a switch will allow stealthy approaches while investigating crimes

Calgary police have turned on daytime running lights after decades of driving around during the day without them. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Calgary police have started using daytime running lights on every patrol vehicle.

The policy change means officers will no longer be able to stealthily drive with their lights off behind suspects at night, but only for the next few months.

Confused? That's understandable.

Until recently, the headlights in Calgary police cars did not automatically come on when the engine was started.

Unlike every other vehicle legally sold in Canada that has daytime running lights, CPS officers had to actually switch on the lights if they wanted them on during the day. And that meant they could drive without any headlights at night too.

Citizen questions police 

A citizen recently asked the police why the vehicles don't have a legal exemption allowing them to operate without daytime running lights.

Insp. Scott Boyd, who commands the Calgary Police Service's (CPS) education and training section, said they looked into it. The conclusion was that the police should apply for an exemption.

However, he rejected the notion that the police were operating outside the law.

"That's not the case at all, no," said Boyd. "There's legislation that allows us to – in certain circumstances – disobey the rules of the road in the execution of our duties, like running a red light or speeding."

But he said CPS has decided to seek an exemption from the province on the daytime running lights requirement.

Cost of switch is $16K

It sounds easy, but there's a process.

First, all 450 vehicles had to be hooked up to a computer to turn on the daytime running lights so they're synched with the ignition.

Now each vehicle will need a special switch that gives officers the ability to turn off the headlights as needed - day or night. They'll also have be trained on when to use that switch.

Then, CPS will apply to the province for the exemption and show that it has taken measures for the correct operation of running its vehicles without having the lights on whenever they are on the road.

Boyd said the cost of installing the switch will be about $16,000 and the work should be done in a few months.

Until then, it means officers can't turn off their headlights unless they switch off the engine. Boyd said it means officers won't have the option to "run dark" in the performance of their duties.

"There's other tactics that we'll have to employ around here in that interim and it is far from ideal, certainly," said Boyd. "But we're prepared to adapt accordingly to overcome this little hurdle."