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Why are headlights on new cars and trucks so much brighter?

Ken Little

Headlight alignment is checked during an inspection at N.C. Inspection Center in Wilmington. (StarNews file photo)

The full question:

“Has the automotive industry been asked why the headlights on new cars and trucks are brighter? Why are the N.C. Department of Transportation inspection stations not enforcing headlight adjustments on trucks and cars that are raised higher with big wheels?”

And the answer:

N.C. DOT’s Division of Motor Vehicles would not be involved in any interaction with manufacturers about brighter headlights, as it has no authority over manufacturers, agency spokesman Steve Abbott said.

“That would be something for the federal level,” Abbott said.

The matter is currently under review by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No regulatory action has been taken.

“Highway safety is a top priority at NHTSA and being able to see properly at night is a key element of highway safety for all drivers, especially as they get older. In the face of changing population demographics that see more elderly drivers getting behind the wheel, NHTSA is moving on a number of fronts to ensure that headlights and other automotive lighting systems not only provide the proper level of vehicle conspicuity and operational illumination for all drivers, but which also limit glare and other visual distractions,” the federal agency said in a “background statement” issued on Dec. 23, 2011.

The NHTSA has conducted several research projects to investigate safety issues around glare, “and continues to look at ways in which the federal lightning standard can provide even better illumination for drivers,” agency spokesman Eric Bolton said.

NHTSA has had a safety standard for lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment since 1968. The purpose of the standard is to reduce traffic crashes and injuries resulting from traffic incidents, by providing adequate illumination of the roadway, and by enhancing the conspicuity of motor vehicles on public roads, Bolton said.

For headlamps, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 contains intensity requirements, both minimums and maximums, at various test points to balance seeing distance needs while limiting glare to other drivers. The agency has also completed several research projects. The results can be found at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Research/Human+Factors/Headlighting

“The agency is currently examining the issues related to glare produced by lamps mounted on the fronts of vehicles. Typically, these are lower and upper beam headlamps, fog lamps, driving lamps, auxiliary lower beam headlamps and daytime running lamps. All except the latter, are used almost exclusively at night. Glare associated with daytime running lamps is the subject of an ongoing rulemaking intended to reduce their intensity,” according to an NHSTA document.

The subject of glare, “whether from lower beams, upper beams, daytime running lamps or any other similar lamp, is important to NHTSA,” the document states.

The driving public has filed written complaints about three types, or “sets,” of headlamp-generated glare.

The first is about high-mounted headlamps found on sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and vans, collectively known as LTVs.

“Mounted high enough to place the more intense part of their low beam into passenger car inside and outside mirrors and to light up the interiors, high mounted headlamps are viewed by many drivers as dangerous and intimidating, in addition to being annoying and disabling,” the NHTSA states.

The second set is about HID headlamps initially found on higher-priced passenger cars, and recently on LTVs and moderately priced passenger cars.

“ Their robust illumination performance and whiter, almost blue, color make them easily identifiable as a new source of glare,” according to the NHTSA document.

The third set is about extra headlamps, or the auxiliary lamps fitted to motor vehicles and typically called fog, driving and auxiliary headlamps.

“The misuse by drivers and poor performance of these popular original equipment and aftermarket lamps may be creating a glare problem. All three of these form a common thread throughout the letters written to NHTSA about nighttime glare,” the document states.

The NHSTA “believes increased glare is something the American people are experiencing, and that this glare raises important safety concerns that need to be addressed thoughtfully and effectively,” it concludes.

For more information, go to: http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/rulings/glare.html

Readers can contact the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, care of the Docket Management System, First Floor, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590, referencing headlight glare (Docket Number 01—8885, RIN 2127-AH81).

User-contributed question by:
Willie H.

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9 Responses to “ Why are headlights on new cars and trucks so much brighter?”

  1. On December 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm Willie H. wrote:

    The “Mom and Pop” type inspection stations are not checking the hight of headlamps……

  2. On December 24, 2011 at 1:16 pm Thurston Cumbee wrote:

    Automatic dimmers are an option on new vehicles that should be standard equipment and any additional lights that are installed after the factory installed lights should require automatic dimmers. That will correct a lot of the problems. Another issue is allowing businesses
    to put lights up that illuminate the roadway a mile before you get to their business. A simple attachment that keeps the light from shining down the roadway would correct this. The problem is that we are not using the things that are already available.

  3. On December 25, 2011 at 2:08 am Willard wrote:

    Yep. Those new extremely bright HID lights are far too bright. They sometimes blind you from seeing oncoming traffic and are absolutely, without question, or need for further testing, far too bright and should be governed to a safer level.

  4. On December 31, 2011 at 3:40 am Raury wrote:

    For a HID headlight to be legal,it has to come installed from the factory. A lot of the blinding headlights you see are after-market units not legal for road use,and the housing they are put in aren’t typically designed to reflect the HID bulb properly. Some people think they look cool,but they are actually putting less light onto the road surface than a regular bulb since a lot is lost to glare. Either inspection stations aren’t looking or the driver is changing the bulb to legal,getting it inspected,and changing it back.

  5. On January 4, 2012 at 7:43 pm Patty wrote:

    I HATE the blue headlights. They are blinding when they are coming at you, and when they are behind me, I flip the rearview so it blinds them!

  6. On February 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm Ruben Johnson wrote:

    Please visit u tube weblink below to see pictures and comment on Fog lamps and Daytime running lamps in Canada


  7. On April 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm willie wrote:

    No Raury….the lights are are on brand new Lexus, caddies and other new cars as well..they are not after market lights, they are factory lights……

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