The Commission has decided to introduce Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) on all new vehicles from 2011 onwards in a bid to increase road safety using energy-efficient technology, it announced on 24 September.

The directive, which requires all new types of passenger cars and small delivery vans to be equipped with DRLs from 7 February 2011 onwards, was approved unanimously by the so-called 'CARS 21' high level group aimed at boosting the competitiveness of the auto industry, the Commission said. Trucks and buses would be subjected to the new rule 18 months later.

Daytime Running Lights switch on automatically when the engine is started, making "a positive contribution to our goal of reducing fatalities on European roads," said Vice President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy.

Indeed, according to Commission estimates, the proposal could help save between 1,200 and 2,000 lives per year, contributing to the EU goal of reducing the number of deaths on EU roads from the current 43,000 per year to 25,000 by 2010.

But a previous attempt by the EU executive to make daytime running lights mandatory for motor vehicles was frozen in 2007 in the face of resistance from many member states as well as the vast majority of industry federations and road-user associations. They argued that the lights would reduce the visibility of motorcyclists, distract drivers with excessive glare and trigger increases in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (EurActiv 27/04/07).

But the Commission insists that DRLs consume less energy than existing lighting devices as they are specifically designed for daytime use.

Reservations about the reintroduction of the directive remain, largely based on past concerns. UK centre-right MEP Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative transport spokesman in the European Parliament, called on the Commission to prove via an independent assessment that the benefits of DRLs are greater than the potential safety and environmental risks.

"We remain sceptical about the need for EU-wide action, when different parts of Europe receive considerably varying levels of natural light," he said.

The Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA) cautiously welcomed the directive as the "least bad" solution to increase road safety: "FEMA is in principle not opposed to dedicated DRLs as long as they are strictly different from motorcycle dipped-beam headlights."