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Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

Posted February 21, 2023 5:00 AM by dstrohl

If you find yourself blinded by the lights while driving at night, you aren’t alone. Complaints from drivers who are being blinded by oncoming traffic is becoming a regular topic of conversation, with some folks avoiding going out at night whenever possible to remedy the situation. Sometimes turning mirrors away from the glare isn’t enough. For driver’s piloting shorter vehicles, the passing of a large truck or SUV can easily light up the other car’s interior like an aquarium on display.

Today’s headlights are faster than the speed of dark. The LEDs in new vehicles can turn nighttime into daytime with the flick of a switch, but how safe is it, really? Regulations on headlights hasn’t changed in decades, while vehicle design and bulb technology has advanced. There are active online communities and petitions dedicated to discussing the causes and solutions to blinding headlights. A quick internet search for “ban blinding headlights” will reveal several pages of results.

According to John Bullough, the Light and Health Research Center’s Program Director at the Icahn School of Medicine, there are three primary issues that have added to bright beams causing temporary blindness on the roads, the most obvious being America’s love for big, tall vehicles. The rising placement of headlights on supersized pickup trucks and SUVs creates a more direct line of glare right into the eyes of those who opt for cars that sit lower to the ground.

The second cause of being blinded by the light is the changing of bulb technology and varying color hues. Vehicle manufacturers have long moved away from the standard halogen bulbs which produce a yellowish ray of light that is easier on the eyes. The move to LEDs introduced a brighter, harsher blue or white light that seemingly reaches farther to cut through the darkness, but commonly causes drivers to see spots after the vehicle passes even if eyes are averted to avoid the glare. The main issue is how the regulated lighting is measured: The human eye is sensitive to an LED’s blue hues vs. the warmer yellow halogen lights, but the light meters are not. Perhaps continuing the use of the old method of measurement isn’t too bright.

The third and most easily fixed issue for light blindness is headlight alignment. Bullough states that is it increasingly common for vehicles to have headlights out of alignment, even in new cars from the factory; “We actually did some measurements not too long ago and found that probably about two-thirds of every car had at least one headlight that was either aimed too high up, which is something that creates a lot of glare for other drivers, or too far down, which essentially limits their visibility."

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#1

Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

02/21/2023 8:02 AM

Dr. Land of the Polaroid Corporation had a good idea a long time ago. Cross polarize the headlights and windshield (or glasses worn by the driver).

https://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/hrbbulletin/11/11-001.pdf

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

02/27/2023 10:51 PM

Wouldn't the cross polarization have the undesirable effect of making oncoming headlights too dim?

I have a related problem at night: the extremely bright flashing lights on emergency vehicles--blue, red, and white. It becomes almost impossible to see the road as well as anyone or anything on it, when one tries to go around such a vehicle stopped alongside the road.

--JMM

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/06/2023 9:03 PM

Wouldn't the cross polarization have the undesirable effect of making oncoming headlights too dim?

I don't think that would have been a problem. You could always make the polarizers less perfect, letting some unpolarized light through if it were.

To be effective, all or most car manufacturers would have had to adopt it, and there was no profit incentive for any one manufacturer to do so. This was before there were government mandates for car design (e.g. seatbelts, etc.)

https://medium.com/@cdixon/as-edwin-land-ultimately-recognized-the-adoption-of-his-polarized-headlight-system-was-fatally-ea37afe520a3

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/06/2023 10:14 PM

I too have noticed the same thing about emergency vehicle lights being so bright that they detract from safety, not improve it. I understand about first responders wanting to be sure that they are seen and not hit, but they have gone too far over the top with those damn lights.

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/22/2023 6:39 PM

We also have to be aware of the number of drivers who crash into emergency vehicles because of not paying attention--that is, smart phones, other devices, and impairment. There has also been recognition among the emergency services that they need to turn off some of those bright lights. So, where's the medium between getting their attention and blinding them???

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

02/21/2023 4:54 PM

. . . or the dumb asses driving around wondering what that blue light is illuminated on their dashboard. At least they can see better.

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#4

Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

02/27/2023 11:46 PM

Just from personal experience, orange tinted polarized glasses are the sliced bread for vision, whether daytime or nighttime use. At least for busy environments.

We just need to smarten up the windshield. A glare sensor.

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/22/2023 6:51 PM

And years ago, a century, they used violet and or yellow lenses.

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#5

Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/01/2023 7:21 AM

Acceptable headlight alignment, focus and brightness is one of the tests in a <3-year-old vehicle's annual MoT inspection in the UK.

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/01/2023 11:47 AM

Those requirements vary by state here in the colonies. Some check it every year or two years with a 'normal' safety inspection, but Maryland for example, only checks it when the vehicle is first registered/tagged to the current owner, and if you buy a new car, there is no safety inspection at all. So, not surprisingly, there are a fairly high percentage of vehicles with poorly aimed headlights. When used vehicles change hands, a new safety inspection is required unless the new owner is immediate family.

In Maryland's defense though, the inspection is VERY thorough and if a vehicles passes inspection, you can be sure all the running gear, e.g. steering, suspension, brakes, tires, exhaust, emissions, glass, lights, et al are in good shape and a culminates with a road test. It will also cost you about $100 or more at most shops certified to do Maryland state inspections and you have to make an appointment because it usually takes a couple of hours. Many states that do an annual or bi-annual safety inspection just do a quick once over the tire tread, lights, horn, and send you on your way in about 10 minutes. Emissions testing is done every two years here in Maryland so you can see that the government cares more about the air than people's safety.

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/22/2023 6:58 PM

In Ohio I have never had an inspection like MD. Some areas require an emissions inspection; I don't know if they cover other things, because I've never had one!

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Re: Blinded by the Light: Why Bright Headlights Rule the Road and How You Can Avoid Them

03/21/2023 11:35 PM

I've heard more complaints in recent years from friends & family. I find some of the bright lights offensive, but I've been able to deal with them.

I think another reason that so many are experiencing this problem is the large number of people that have had vision correction surgery. I haven't had it, but I've heard people complain about 'stars', halos, etc. after corrective surgery.

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