Every driver knows that car lights are essential to driving at night. Chattanooga drivers should also understand that using the car’s bright lights often requires balances. Many rural roads and country roads aren’t well-lit, which makes seeing difficult. It can be especially hard to see when it is foggy or rainy. The balance is that what is good for you is not necessarily good for other drivers. While other drivers need to see you to reduce the odds of an accident, it does not do the other driver any good if he/she is blinded by your lights.
A new June 2021 report by the New York Times indicates that drivers have an added concern. Many pickup trucks and SUVs now come with “light-emitting diodes” which are very intense and cause glare for both the driver and oncoming vehicles. The report profiled one driver who said that the headlights with his new vehicle were so intense that he drove with only one eye open to be able to handle the light-emitting diodes. He said, his right eye “hurts so bad, sometimes I just want to pop it out.” The driver said that the sensitivity to light is affecting his social life as well as his driving. The driver said there’s no reason to believe anything other than the light intensity is causing his vision problems.
The new LED lighting technology is used by cars as well, but the problem is magnified for pickups and SUVs because the headlights are higher off the ground than the headlights on cars.
Headlights have been evolving over the past 70 years
Headlights are indeed getting brighter, according to the chief product officer for The Retrofit Source, a company that distributes lights for trucks and cars. Vehicle headlights during the 1950s through the 1980s were “sealed-beam headlights” that didn’t produce the best light output.
In the 1980s and 1990s, vehicles used halogen lights (with tungsten filaments). Halogens provided more light than the sealed-beam headlights. In the 1990s and early 2000s, vehicles transitioned to “high-intensity discharge lights” that glowed brightly and approximated the daylight’s spectrum. Light-emitting diode (LED) lights started being used in the 2010s due to their energy efficiency, their longevity, and their modern look.
According to the chief editor of Driving Vision News, an automotive technical journal, the light from the newer headlights appears more intense, in part, because the headlights have gotten smaller. The headlights, the editor says, are especially problematic when they’re on SUVs and tall pickups – both of which have become very popular. Nearly half of all 280 million passenger vehicles registered in America are SUVs or pickup trucks.
Why are LED and high-intensity lights so dangerous?
These lights are dangerous because they can temporarily blind other drivers. Much like sun glare can make it difficult to see around a corner or over a hill, bright headlights can make it impossible to see objects moving in front of you (like deer or even pedestrians) and can make it difficult to judge whether it is safe to merge into another lane.
Another problem with LED lights and high-intensity headlights is that they seem bluer “in their output spectrum than halogens.” LEDs and high-intensity headlights also provoke harsher reactions than softer white and yellow lights – according to the Driving Vision News editor. He added that humans have difficulty processing blue light “because blue wavelengths tend to focus just ahead of the retina rather than on it.”
The founder of Softlights, an advocacy group, said that while the blue LEDs do help with driving at night because they illuminate farther, the lights are not good for the eye receptors of other drivers. The head of a research and engineering company says that the key determining factor is the light that falls on your eyeball.
Who is at greatest risk of a crash caused by high intensity and LED headlights?
Obviously, anyone driving at night is at risk, but so are those who drive at dawn and dusk. The glare of the lights can pose additional risks to:
- Young and teen drivers
- Elderly drivers
- People driving in rural areas without streetlights
- People driving during poor weather
- People driving on hilly or curvy roads
Who determines if a headlight is dangerous?
The focus on higher headlight illumination was driven, in part, by vehicle manufacturers who were trying to obtain higher safety scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS began issuing headlight ratings in 2016. The first review only gave 1 out of 80 car manufacturers a good rating. In the March 2021 rating, 25% of car manufacturers received a good rating.
Are better headlight solutions possible?
The IIHS manager for active safety testing said that new technology, introduced about five years ago, uses headlights that automatically shift from high beam to low beam when an oncoming car is coming. The manager doesn’t know whether this technology is reducing headlight glare complaints.
Another technology, called “adaptive driving beam,” is being used regularly in Europe but hasn’t been approved in the United States yet. This technology uses sensors to detect oncoming vehicles and then adjusts the “projected beam pattern” so that it won’t blind other drivers. The NHTSA says it is reviewing this new adaptive driving beam technology.
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