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Motorists Complain about Blinding Headlights

Pickup trucks and larger sports utility vehicles are flooding the streets in the U.S., and while drivers are enjoying these vehicles, other motorists are finding them annoying because bright nighttime glare from the headlights of these oncoming vehicles blinds them. Others complain the glare of their lights from their rearview mirror are disturbing. It appears lighting technology advances to improve nighttime driving has become too intense for drivers with cars that sit lower.

An article in the New York Times about the blinding headlights quotes Shawn DeVries, a resident of Doon, Iowa, who complained that the headlights from oncoming traffic became so intense, he had to shut his left eye and keep the right eye open that the right eye became so strained that he developed intermittent pain and light sensitivity that has affected his social life and driving habits.

Headlights have come a long way from beam lights and halogens. Technology has advanced to high-intensity discharge (HID) lights, which emit a bright glow that resemble daylight and LED headlights that are supposed to be energy-efficient and last longer. Halogen lights emit 1,000 to 1,500 lumens, while HID lights and LEDs emit 3,000 to 4,000 lumens.

Already in 2001 the NHTSA sought comments from the public about headlight glare and found about 30 percent of respondents said they had experienced “disturbing” nighttime headlight glare from oncoming traffic or from cars whose lights appeared in their rearview mirrors, 11 percent came from respondents older than 65, 45 percent from those between 35 and 54 years old. Drivers 18 to 24 years old complained the most about glare from vehicles behind them.

According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, as of March 2021, 28 percent of headlight systems tested on model year 2021 vehicles received a good rating, while half of the systems tested were rated marginal or poor because of inadequate visibility, excessive glare from low beams for oncoming drivers, or both. The low beams of many headlight systems with poor ratings do not provide enough light for a driver going 55 mph on a straight road to stop in time after spotting an obstacle in his or her lane.

It appears federal regulations on headlights even when followed do not necessarily have similar performance on the road and while measurements are taken for visibility and glare, they allow a large range of intensities and the angles and do not mandate mounting height, width, and where the lights should be aimed. So two vehicles could be equipped with the same headlights but have a large difference in the distances illuminated.

The Time study mentioned new technology being developed to improve headlight glare. Adaptive driving beam , which is widely used in Europe but not yet legal in the United States, has sensors that can detect oncoming traffic and adjust the projected beam pattern to allow plenty of light for the driver without blinding other motorists. The article says the NHTSA said it was working to finalize rules allowing the use of adaptive driving beam technology in the United States.

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