Modern car design has an interesting issue when it comes to automatic headlights. Dashboards are increasingly electronic affairs. The days of laser-cut or die-cut plastic instruments with physical bulbs behind them are coming to an end and more and more cars are getting small LCD displays instead. In some cases, the entire instrument panel is replaced with a single giant LCD.
In the "good old days", an aide-memoir to know whether your headlights were on or not was to see if the instruments were lit up in front of you. If you couldn't see the instruments, chances were that your headlights were off. That doesn't hold true any more - the instrument panel is normally always illuminated now - and obviously if it's an LCD display, it's always on. Somewhere on the display there will be an indication that the headlights are on, but now you need to know what the icon is, where it is and what colour it is. Manufacturers haven't been able to come up with a universal icon for this. For example on my Range Rover, the symbol is a green headlight with three slanted lines - that means dipped beam, all lights on. But in my wife's Nissan Leaf, that same symbol means daytime running lights.
This problem is confounded by people's lack of understanding of how automatic headlights work.
With most new vehicles, in an increasing number of countries, even with the headlights turned to the "off" position, the vehicle shows daytime running lights. These are either LED lights or small bulbs in the headlights that are always on. Importantly, in this state, the rear lights are always OFF. This is bad because people become used to thinking their headlights are on all the time, (they're not - DRL's are not headlights), which means when you get into heavy rain, spray, bad visibility and poor weather, the drivers think they're lit up but from the rear, they're completely invisible.
The image below shows the problem. The top one is headlights off, but DRLs on. The bottom one is headlights on. At a quick glance, the dash looks no different. Look more closely and there's a little icon almost hidden by one of the needles that shows the headlight status:
So automatic headlights seem like the obvious choice, right? I mean a light sensor turns the headlights and tail lights on when it's dark, and off when it's light. No fuss, no muss. Except that due to the design of these systems, they can ONLY see light and dark. This is fine for clear, dry weather, but again, once you get into fog, haze, heavy rain, spray and other bad weather conditions, the automatic function typically doesn't turn the lights on because the ambient brightness of light hitting the sensor is still high, so the system assumes that it's daytime. Which it might be, but you might be driving in near zero visibility spray on a wet motorway. These are conditions where you absolutely DO need all your lights on and now people seem to get into an utter state of confusion because they now have to contend with "OFF" which means "sort of on but not really", "AUTO" which means on when it's dark, but currently off because it's daylight even though it's pissing down with rain, and "ON" which means truly "ON".
And again, because there's no single, standard, agreed-upon icon on the dash that every manufacturer uses to denote that all the lights are actually on, drivers have no reliable, consistent indication of their headlight status.
You'd think this would be easy enough to fix but we're all still waiting .....