Technology We Don’t Actually Need #1

OK, so this morning I’m driving along on the freeway and a question comes into my head. It’s not the first time I’ve asked this question, but I think now is the right time for the world to ask it with me:

What the hell are parking lamps on a car for?

Ponder this – when was the last time you used your parking lamps for parking? In fact, an even more pertinent question is: how useful are parking lamps in the process of parking anyway? If I tried to park my car using the pallid gleam of its parking lamps I think I’d end up parking myself into the rear end of another car. Parking lamps are wussy and dim. In the light from the average streetlamp, they may as well not even be switched on.

Of course, this is not the reason for which most drivers think parking lamps should be used in any case. Those who are even aware of their parking lamps (other than as the temporary switch position between OFF and HEADLIGHTS) think that they’re supposed to employ them when they’re driving along on a dimly lit or rainy day. BUT, my friends, if the point of this activity is to heighten visibility, then why not use your headlights??? Parking lamps are, in this capacity, a grudgingly marginal commitment to safety. It’s like wanting to be visible, but not too visible.(i) The driver of the car who was behind me on the freeway this morning may as well have been waving a birthday candle, for all the visibility his parking lights were offering.(ii)

So, racking my brains as to any conceivable explanation for the automobile parking lamp’s purpose for being, I did what all hip 21st century netizens do and turned to the Font of All Knowledge, Wikipedia. Well. The first thing that must be said is that Wikipedia’s entry for Automotive Lighting is one of the longest and most comprehensive I have ever come across. You want lights, it’s got lights. And it has more footnotes than a Tetherd Cow Ahead article about ShooTag. If you need to know stuff about car lights, this is your one stop shop. Suck on that Encyclopedia Brittanica.

It throws scant illumination, however, on the topic of parking lamps. Oh, it has several paragraphs about them, alright, but nowhere is there any persuasive explanation for any practical utility.

So, even with the vastness of the internet’s information-gathering clout at my fingertips, I can draw no other conclusion than that the car’s parking lamps are nothing more than the automotive evolutionary equivalent of a vestigial tail or an appendix. It is my view that they serve no function other than to supply the makers of light bulbs with a nice reliable income stream.

Honk if you agree.

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Footnotes:

  1. It strikes me that it’s not unlike the floatation vest you’re supposed to wear in the event of a plane crash – sure, put it on if it makes you feel better, but when you hit the water at 800+ mph, a life vest is going to be about as useful as a banana in a swordfight. []
  2. Seriously. Outside, in the overcast daylight, I couldn’t actually tell if they were on or off. I only knew they were on because we had previously passed through a tunnel. []

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