The Sydney Morning Herald
Friday October 11 2002
The lights on the new Fairmont Ghia could land owners in trouble with the law.
Drivers of the flagship Ford face $74 police infringement notices - because the "decorative" lights in the front bumper could be mistaken for fog lamps.
Drive discovered the unique lighting system after spending a day trying to find the switch to turn the "fog lamps" off.
Under the Australian Road Rules - rule 217, subsection 1 to be precise - fog lamps may only be illuminated in fog or "atmospheric conditions where visibility is at a minimum".
In the Ghia, Ford fitted the new lights to the lower section of the front bumper - where fog lamps are usually located. They go on with the headlights and cannot be switched off independently.
Ford Australia says the lights meet all relevant Australian Design Rule standards and produce a softer beam than fog lamps or driving lights.
But, as Drive has found, there could be confusion among the law enforcers as to what constitutes a fog lamp.
Drive showed the car to 10 highway patrol officers this week and each said, had they not been made aware of the difference, they would issue a ticket.
"I reckon owners of these cars are going to pulled over constantly," said a highway patrol sergeant with 25 years' experience. "Once the motorist explained it to us, I would say most officers would not issue the ticket. But how many owners are going to know the difference?"
If you think the police are confused, so is Ford. Information supplied to media clearly states that "fog lamps" are fitted to the Fairmont Ghia, but when contacted for this story the company said they are "decorative lamps".
Ford Australia's vice president of product development, Trevor Worthington, said "The lights on the Ghia are merely visual jewellery to give the car a high-class look."
There is no special mention or warning to owners about the so-called "decorative lights" in the Falcon handbook. Police officers we spoke to were concerned that owners would receive tickets not knowing they were in the right.
"It looks like a fog lamp, it'll probably get a fog-lamp ticket," said a senior constable with nine years' highway patrol experience. "We don't carry instruments that measure light intensity and, the reality is, when you're stopped on the side of the road, you can't easily pick the difference.
"I think Ford should have thought twice about putting them there. There are going to be a lot of angry people going to court."
In Victoria, the home of Ford Australia, it is not illegal for motorists to drive with fog lamps illuminated in clear conditions. NSW modified its Australian Road Rule code to include the fog-lamp penalty, among others.
Ford's Worthington denied that the new lights - and the possible implications in NSW - was an oversight.
"No, it's definitely not an oversight," he said. "They are not fog lamps, they are low beam, decorative lamps and they do not have the same intensity as fog lamps."
Adding to the confusion, in all new Falcon XR performance cars, the lights in the front bumper are fog lamps - and are able to be switched off. Driving with these illuminated in clear weather is an offence.
Only a small number of Fairmont Ghias have been distributed nationally so, Ford Australia says, it is yet to receive any complaints. Would Ford pay the fines?
"Certainly not," said Worthington. "That would be up to the motorist to take it up with police. They are not fog lamps, they are decorative lamps."
VOTE IN OUR NETPOLL
Should Ford pay the fines for any fog lamp tickets issued to drivers of the new Fairmont Ghia?
Email your vote (a simple "yes" or "no" will do) to email@example.com