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Too bright to drive - the new HID headlights.

June 2011 

HID headlightsDriving is definitely not getting any easier. Driving in the evening with the summer sun glaring into our eyes can cause big problems; now there could be another threat to our safety.

New HID headlamps (high intensity discharge headlights) have been developed as an additional safety feature to help people see clearly at night. They produce around 300% more light than standard halogen headlights yet use less power. HID lamps don’t have a filament but create light as a result of an arc between two electrodes, giving a bright blue white beam which resembles natural daylight and offers a far clearer definition of what is on the road ahead.

Now, though, road-users are saying they are getting dazzled by these very bright lights.
Traditional car halogen lights give off a soft yellow tone that is muted well when turned down to dipped beam. The white blue HID lights are still very bright, even when dipped. Often drivers flash people with HID lights as the light is so bright it appears as if the car still has full headlights on even when they have been dipped.

This can be a special problem with people of our age because it is accepted that older age groups generally suffer more from glare related problems. Studies show that a typical driver needs 10 seconds to recover if they have been dazzled by headlight glare – and this time increases as we age. At 60 miles an hour, a car can travel nearly 900 feet in 10 seconds, so the dangers of headlight glare are very clear indeed.

While the situation is being sorted out, various recommendations have been given out to help deal with the situation. There is nothing very new here that is not covered by common sense but the main recommendation is to never look directly at oncoming vehicles. Concentrate instead on the side of the road ahead and of course slow down if you feel your vision has been impaired by dazzle.

It is not only oncoming cars that create dazzle; cars following you can also create major problems. Make sure you are aware of how to adjust your rear-view mirror to the night position to minimize any glare from following vehicles and remember to do this before you set off at night.

Interestingly, it is not only at night that people complain of problems from being dazzled. Most drivers recognise that certain models such as Volvo are manufactured with DRL (daytime running lights) because of legislation in their home countries. A suggestion to bring in mandatory DRL to the EU has been defeated for the time being. These daytime lights should not cause dazzle but there has been a trend for car drivers to switch on dipped headlights during daytime for extra safety. When these lights are HID lights, then dazzle can occur.

There are various groups trying to get car lights better regulated including an online campaign called Lightmare which has been started by a night-time London taxi driver who feels strongly about the danger of HID headlamps. Some optometrists are also showing concern over the new lights.

Car makers say HIDs fully meet European standards and go through extensive testing.

Whatever your views, it is worth being aware that some cars on the road now may have particularly bright headlamps. More information is available on:

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