PHILADELPHIA — If you feel blinded by the lights when driving, you’re not alone. Thousands are complaining that vehicle headlights are getting brighter and causing more glare and at least one group says it’s dangerous.
About half of all fatal crashes happen in the dark and headlights make a difference in crash rates.
The Soft Lights Foundation is calling for a ban on what it calls “blinding headlights”, circulating a petition that has more than 41,000 signatures.
“I’ve got a small car. This truck is so much higher than me. Those headlights are going straight into my eye,” said Mark Baker, President of the Soft Lights Foundation.
More people are buying taller vehicles. In 2010 56% of vehicles sold were SUVs or trucks and by 2021, they accounted for 81%.
“How is that going to be safe? So there’s a mismatch between small cars and super large cars that NHTSA should be having standards for,” said Baker.
The Soft Lights Foundation says another factor is LEDs. It says the intensity and color temperature distract drivers, causing accidents and illness, like migraines and more.
“We’re very concerned about long term health of our eyes such as macular degeneration. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests and rates headlights for visibility and glare.
It says the biggest contributor for glare is headlights that “misaim”.
“If the aim is wrong, after they’ve been put on the vehicle, is they are too high, pointed too high that they can cause too much glare,” said Matt Brumbelow, Senior Research Engineer at IIHS.
The IIHS says recent research shows nighttime crash rates per mile are nearly 20% lower for vehicles with headlights rated “good” in its evaluation, compared with those rated “poor.” But it also says it sees improvement.
“Overall, even with all of those three things, think the amount of glare that an average vehicle is putting out is actually coming down over the past few years,” he said.
For the 2023 model year, the IIHS found 5% of the headlights tested had excessive glare, compared with 20% in the 2017 model year.
Adaptive driving beams continuously adjust the beams and are now legal to use, but experts say it could be years before that technology becomes common.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains more about LED lights and testing:
LEDs can be brighter than halogen bulbs, which means they have the potential to produce more glare when misaimed. When properly aimed, however, a brighter headlight can improve visibility without providing excessive glare, and this is exactly what we’re looking for with our headlight ratings program.
IIHS measures light from LEDs and other bulb technologies the same way because light emitted from LEDs follows the same laws as other light sources. All sources of light are governed by the same law that essentially states that intensity of light is reduced exponentially as a surface is moved further away. Arguments that LEDs produce a narrower beam of light are also unfounded. LEDs, like other headlights, use curved mirrors to disperse light and properly illuminate the road. A narrowly focused beam would not perform well in our tests and may violate NHTSA regulations for headlights. There is also no research showing that color temperature of headlights has safety implications.
Measuring glare is an important part of our headlight ratings program, and plenty of vehicles have earned poor ratings due solely to excessive glare readings. But we are seeing improvements, often resulting from aim adjustments. For the 2023 model year, only 5 percent of the headlight systems tested had excessive glare, compared with 20 percent in the 2017 model year. What that means is there are a lot of vehicles on the road today with glare issues, but the problem will diminish over time as newer vehicles with better headlights replace those that are on the road.
IIHS will continue to push for better headlights that light the road and limit glare. Recent research confirms that nighttime crash rates per mile are nearly 20 percent lower for vehicles with headlights that earn a good rating in the IIHS evaluation, compared with those with poor-rated headlights.