You’re Not Imagining It: Headlights Are Getting Brighter

You’re Not Imagining It: Headlights Are Getting BrighterIt’s one of the fundamental rules of driving – you should turn off your bright lights if another car (with their lights on) is coming to you. The glare from bright lights can cause a driver affected by the glare to be temporarily blinded by the light. This blindness can easily cause a car accident. Bright lights help drivers see on roads that aren’t well-lit, but drivers need to be respectful of other drivers.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers of some of the more popular car brands – SUVs and pickups fail to take the glare and intensity of bright lights into account. According to a story in the New York Times, the use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in these popular vehicles is prompting concerns about the dangers these stronger LED lights create.

Examples of complaints about the new light-emitting diodes

The light-emitting diodes in vehicle headlights are now fairly common. They’re considered an “improvement” over halogen lamps. Many drivers, though, are upset:

  • One driver said that the diodes in the headlights of oncoming vehicles is too intense for him. He regularly shuts his left eye and keeps his right eye open – which has created another problem.
  • Another driver raised concerns that people whose vision is affected (due to high blood pressure or diabetes) might have additional difficulties adjusting to the bright headlights. He said that common sense says – you don’t look straight into the sun with binoculars and you don’t “weld without a helmet, so, you shouldn’t drive when extra-bright lights are coming towards you.”

The LEDs in SUVs and pickup trucks are especially dangerous, because the lights on these vehicles are higher than on standard passenger cars. The angle of the light makes the brightness even more intense for the drivers looking into the LEDs.

The transition to the new light-emitting diodes

Matt Kossoff, chief product officer of The Retrofit Source, an Atlanta-based distributor of lights for cars and trucks, explained the transition in vehicle headlights over the years:

  • Sealed-beam headlights. From the 1950s to the 1980s, vehicle headlights were sealed-beam headlights. They didn’t provide the best light output.
  • Halogen lights. These lights use tungsten filaments. They were used in the 1980s and 1990s. Halogen lights provide better light output than sealed-beam lights.
  • High-intensity discharge lights. These lights, used in the late 1990s and early 200s, “cast a bright glow that approximates the spectrum of sunlight.”
  • Light-emitting-diodes (LEDs). These lights began to be used in the 2010s. They generally provide lighting that is longer-lasting and energy-efficient. The lights are also thought to be attractive because of their modern style.

The LED lights have prompted numerous complaints from social media sites (such as one that focuses on banning them altogether) to concerns by scientists such as Eric Kennedy, an associate biomedical engineering professor at Bucknell University. Kennedy says that the focus on headlights needs to understand the unintended consequences.

Kennedy asserts that a major reason for the move towards the LED lights by manufacturers was the goal of manufacturers to achieve higher safety ratings  from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS.) The IIHS is a nonprofit research entity that evaluates vehicle safety. In 2016, when the IIHS released its first headlight ratings – only 1 of 80 headlights were deemed “good.” In March 2021, 25% of the headlight systems that were rated received a “good” rating.

Long-term concerns about bright headlights

Concerns about headlight glare are 20 years old. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sought comments about headlight glare back in 2001. About 30% of the people who responded said, “they had experienced ‘disturbing’ nighttime headlight glare from oncoming traffic or from cars whose lights appeared in their rearview mirrors.”

Drivers of all ages, not just older drivers who tend to have more nighttime vision problems, complained about headlight glare. Of the age groups who complained about headlight glare, 11% were at least 65 years old, and 45% were between 35 and 54 years old. Drivers between 18 and 24 years old complained the most about glare from vehicles behind them.

Factors that increase headlight glare

According to the chief editor for Driving Vision News, a technical journal – as lights get smaller, the intensity of the light appears brighter. Drivers in lower cars are affected by the glare in tall pickups and SUVs. Currently, almost half of all registered vehicles in the US are pickups or SUVs.

One of the problems, according to the chief editor, is that “LED and high-intensity discharge headlights can appear more blue in their output spectrum than halogens, and they often provoke ‘significantly stronger discomfort reactions’ than warm white or yellowish lights.” The editor adds that human eyes have difficulty with blue light “because blue wavelengths tend to focus just ahead of the retina rather than on it.”

Brightness is defined by scientists by the lumen output.

  • Halogens lights emit 1,000 to 1,500 lumens.
  • LEDs can emit 3,000 to 4,000 lumens.

According to M. Nisa Kahan, president of IEM LED Lighting Technologies, a research and engineering company based in Red Bank, N.J. “what falls on your eyeball is what matters. When the lumens are too high, our eyes complain.

Another factor, some researchers say, is headlight aim – where the headlights actually point.

Possible solutions to the headlight glare problem

A manager of active safety testing a the IIHS says that “technology known as high-beam assist automatically switches high beams to low beams when it senses an oncoming car.” This feature is becoming more available. Whether it will reduce head glare complaints is (to use a bad pun) unclear.

Another technology being used in Europe, but not the US yet, is called the adaptive driving beam. According to Mr. Kossoff of The Retrofit Source it’s “very James Bond-like” and “very cool.” The beam relies on sensors that can detect oncoming traffic and adjust the projected beam pattern to allow plenty of light for the driver without blinding other motorists.”

At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver, WA car accident and product liability lawyers fight aggressively to hold everyone who causes an accident liable for the injuries they cause. We file claims against drivers who speed, drive while distracted, or fail to respect your position on the road. We file claims against manufacturers of defective car parts – even if those parts appear to have some benefits. To discuss your car accident case, please call our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can reach us at 360-746-0351 or complete our contact form. We represent personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis.