Brighter than the sun: headlight issue needs a good solution
Published 2:50 pm Thursday, November 9, 2023
Daylight Savings Time ends on November 5 this year, meaning that for those of us who are out and about in the evenings will be driving in the dark soon.
No matter whether we’re traveling to an evening meeting or going out for dinner at a local restaurant or just making our usual commute home after work, we’ll all have to turn our headlights on as we drive down the road.
I don’t usually mind driving in the dark. Out here on these rural backroads there tends to be less traffic at night than during the daylight hours. And, unless a farmer is working very late to get the harvest in, you’re not usually running into a lot of slow-moving farm equipment in the dark. (Which is good, because being stuck behind a tractor is stressful enough in the daylight when you can actually see to pass them.)
In the past few years, however, I seem to get more and more irritated during my evening drive home. And that’s because there always seems to be a vehicle behind me with extremely bright headlights! It’s much harder to drive safely if you’re being blinded by headlights from another vehicle. For a while I wondered why everyone seemed to be intentionally shining their brights through my rear window. Was I driving too slow? Was there just an abundance of jerks driving on this particular highway every evening?
Nope. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels like headlights are brighter these days, regardless of whether the hi-beams are turned on or not. Plenty of other people have noticed and have been concerned about it too. So I went searching for the “why” behind this phenomenon and if there’s anything being done about the problem.
What I found was an article from NBC News which was posted back in May this year.
According to their reporting, there are a few different reasons why headlights look brighter these days. Firstly, newer vehicles often have LED lights instead of the old halogens. This wouldn’t be a problem – LEDs are more efficient and last longer, after all – but these new lights also tend to emit a more blue-ish light, which is harsher on our eyes than the yellow-ish halogens.
Secondly, more people are driving vehicles that sit higher off the ground (like trucks and SUVs), so smaller cars are often positioned right at eye-level with those headlights. I drive a small Ford, and I can attest that any truck which looks tall enough to run my car over will also blind me with their headlights, even on the low setting.
Lastly, many cars apparently have misaligned headlights, so they’re often angled into a driver’s eye, no matter what. And the drivers usually aren’t aware of the problem.
“Headlights aren’t like flashlights,” said one professional interviewed for the article. “When you’re 100 feet away, a little change in how that headlight is aimed can make a big difference in putting your eyes in that bright part of the headlight beam.”
Basically, the drivers aren’t really at fault for how bright their headlights look. After all, they’re not the ones installing LED lights or checking for proper alignment. So it’s really up to the manufacturers and government regulations to help us out.
One solution is to include “adaptive driving beams” (ADB) on vehicles, which constantly adjust the projected light to reduce glare, illuminating unoccupied parts of the road more than occupied areas. The technology has been used in Europe for a little over a decade and is available in every major market around the world except for the United States.
Some carmakers, like Audi, have the feature already installed in their vehicles, but aren’t able to turn them on yet thanks to regulatory red tape. A regulation was passed in 2022 to allow ADB, but the industry says its too cumbersome and “not practical or not reasonable” to implement for the US market.
So basically, everyone’s stuck in limbo right now, and meanwhile, our eyes are still being blinded at night.
Another solution is to focus on correcting headlight misalignment. But that’s often not required for vehicle inspections, so you have to ask the mechanic yourself to check it.
While reading this article, I was surprised to learn that even new cars may have misaligned headlights because manufacturers aren’t required to check them after the headlights have been mounted to the vehicle. To me, that seems like something you ought to check before it goes off the assembly line.
So, with one solution, we have too much red tape to get new technology implemented, and with the other solution, we don’t have enough regulation to get problems easily corrected ahead of time.
All in all, this whole situation gives me an irritating headache.
I have a few suggestions as a way to move forward: firstly, get the ADB regulations straightened out so that manufacturers can start getting them on the roads. It would take some time for vehicles across the country to make the switch, so we might as well start as soon as we can.
Secondly, require automakers to check headlight realignment more than once. I wouldn’t want to buy a car if it needed maintenance – however small – right away.
Thirdly, it would be nice if lightbulb manufacturers came up with a way to better filter the harsh blue lights from LEDs, so that we could continue using them for efficiency without having to squint at oncoming traffic like they’re the sun.
And lastly, if you’re driving behind me at night, please do me a favor and pass my car! Let’s all try our best to get home safely when we’re out in the dark.
Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at email@example.com or 252-332-7206.